Burritos Delivery Drones
Google parent Alphabet Inc. plans this month to use drones to deliver burritos to a small number of staff and students at Virginia Tech, a limited test of the tech giant’s ambitious plans to quicken deliveries with unmanned aircraft.
In the tests, drones from Alphabet’s research lab, X, will ferry burritos from a Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. food truck to an official several hundred feet away, who will distribute the orders to waiting customers, Alphabet said. The flights will mark X’s first drone deliveries in the U.S. to people who aren’t Alphabet employees. Drone-delivery startup Flirtey Inc. delivered medicine to a rural health clinic last year, in another test.
Alphabet said its test will entail a few hundred deliveries to students and staff from a nearby office building. The drones will fly on an automated route over a fenced-off field near Virginia Tech’s campus and remain in sight of an operator who can take control of the aircraft if necessary, Alphabet said.
The test will last for several days at a federally sanctioned drone test site, part of a Federal Aviation Administration program to collect data on drones to improve regulations and technology. The FAA said last month that X would be testing its drones at one of the agency’s six test sites.
X used drones to deliver dog treats, radios and chocolate to farmers in rural Australia as part of limited tests in 2014. After those tests, X overhauled the design of its drones.
X has bigger plans for drone deliveries over the next decade, including potentially delivering medicine and batteries to areas affected by natural disasters.
Alphabet is among several companies eyeing drone deliveries, including Amazon.com Inc. For now, though, new FAA drones rules that took effect last month include restrictions that would preclude large-scale drone deliveries, including a ban on flights beyond sight of operators. Until those rules are changed, which likely will take years, delivery drones in the U.S. will be limited to operating in tests or under waivers. -WSJ