If you study at Virginia Tech, count yourself among the lucky ones who will be soon getting their burritos delivered in an entirely innovative manner. Alphabet Inc., Google’s parent company, has partnered with fast food chain Chipotle and Virginia Tech’s Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership to start a trial program of delivering burritos to college students through drones. The program is being undertaken by Project Wing– a semi-secretive drone-delivery moonshot initiated by Google in 2014, with hundreds of trials expected to be conducted later on in September.
This Will Be Alphabet’s First Drone Delivery Test On The U.S. Public
Project Wing is an experiment of the Google X lab, the company’s research arm which has in the past come up with concepts like glucose-monitoring contact lens, internet-beaming balloons and Google Glass. It has experimented with drone-based delivery before, when back in 2014, it delivered dog treats, radios, and chocolate to farmers living in the Australian outback. The Google burrito experiment, however, will be the first instance that the company will be carrying out drone delivery trials on the U.S. public.
The food will be prepared onsite by a Chipotle Mexican Grill food truck. A fixed-wing aircraft will take off vertically and lower burrito packages to the ground on a retractable tether. The delivery, however, will not just happen anywhere on the campus.
A special test site approved by the Federal Aviation Administration (Virginia Tech is one of the six test sites approved by the federal agency for unmanned aircraft) will receive deliveries of burritos ordered by students and employees from an adjacent building.
‘It’s the first time that we’re actually out there delivering stuff to people who want that stuff,’ said Dave Vos, who heads Project Wing, as quoted by Bloomberg.
Astro Teller, referred to as Google X’s ‘captain of moonshots’, said: ‘We want to learn how people feel when they’re receiving a package by air, and taking someone’s time and/or money changes things more than a little. And we want to feel the pressure of unexpected circumstances that show us how we can get better at loading and managing a fleet of planes.’
Delivering Food Packages Will Be A Complicated Task
Earlier in May 2016, logistics company DHL had already started shipping drone packages in Germany, but Project Wing’s experiment will be the most complex one till date, mainly because it involves delivery of a food item like burritos- which are soft and can easily fall apart or get spoiled.
The tests will enable researchers at Virginia Tech Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership and Project Wing to study and analyze the vehicle performance and navigational capacity while delivering food, and also determine how receptive customers ware to the idea of low-flying unmanned aircraft.
The technical, safety and user-experience data resulting from the tests will be shared with the Federal Aviation Administration, which is aiming to make commercial drones more integrated with national airspace.
‘Our goal is to maximize learning, and food delivery poses a rich set of operating challenges that few other testing scenarios have. A lunchtime rush of burrito orders will crank up the operational pressure of multiple orders coming in during a short period of time.
We’ll get to test how to package sensitive cargo and how well it endures the journey (after all, everyone wants their meal hot and in the right shape). In future tests, we could add a broader range of items, like drinks, which will push us to handle more weight, keep packages carefully balanced, and manage combinations of items on a single flight,’ stated Teller.