Google parent Alphabet has teamed up with Chipotle Mexican Grill to test Project Wing drones, with the unmanned aerial vehicles to deliver burritos to staff and students at Virginia Tech.
The experimental service, which will begin within the month but last for only a few weeks, received approval from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). It will be the most extensive test yet in the United States for drone deliveries, a service which companies such as Amazon and Walmart believe could eventually become a routine way for product deliveries.
"It's the first time that we're actually out there delivering stuff to people who want that stuff," said Project Wing head Dave Vos.
The test will see Project Wing drones pick up burritos from a Chipotle food truck and deliver them to an official waiting several hundred feet away, who will then distribute the burritos to the waiting customers. The burritos will be given to the official through a winch that will lower the food, as the drone continues hovering overhead. Mark Blanks, the director of the partnership, said that the volunteers who will be ordering the food will include Virginia Tech staff and students.
The Project Wing drones will be flying on an automated route crossing over a fenced-off field near the campus of Virginia Tech, with the drones always to remain on sight of an operator who will be able to take control of the drones in case something goes wrong.
In addition to the flight of the drones and their delivery mechanism, the testing will also check if the packaging will be able to protect the food while keeping it warm. Food was selected as the product for the experiment due to it being a challenge.
What would not be a part of the testing, however, is the assessment of a low-level air-traffic system that might prove to be necessary for delivery drones to safely occupy airspace. The framework of such a system is currently being developed by NASA, Project Wing and several other companies.
According to Vos, his team is already working on a more advanced second version of the drones, but those will not be a part of the upcoming tests.
Early last month, the White House approved planned testing for Project Wing's drone delivery service. This is a part of several initiatives launched by the government for the increased usage of drones by businesses in the United States.
The other key initiatives that were launched include a $35 million research grant by the National Science Foundation (NSF) for research on drone technology and its applications and the utilization of drones for search and rescue operations by the Department of the Interior (DOI).