project wing drone delivery

A prototype delivery drone from Project Wing will be bringing Chipotle burritos to a closed group of students at Virginia Tech.

Drones bring flying burritos to Virginia Tech

Chipotle, Project Wing and the university will test unmanned delivery systems and research how people will respond to drones in daily life.

Competition for dining dollars just got more difficult at Virginia Tech University, as burritos have been cleared for takeoff this month in an extensive drone delivery trial. 

Google’s parent company, Alphabet Inc., and Chipotle Mexican Grill have gotten the go-ahead from the Federal Aviation Administration to use self-guided drones to deliver burritos to Virginia Tech students. While the pilot likely won’t put any sizable dent in the college’s dining services account, drone delivery of food is certainly something to keep in mind for operations in an increasingly technological- and convenience-based world.

Project Wing, part of X (an innovation lab formerly known as Google[x]), is focused on unmanned aerial systems (UAS) and has been testing and researching the ways these systems could potentially change the way goods are delivered. Wing team members say UAS could make deliveries faster, cheaper and better for the environment compared with traditional ground transportation.

After years of work, a prototype is ready, and it’ll be bringing burritos to a closed group of students on the Virginia Tech campus, where a Chipotle food truck will serve as home base for burrito production. 

The goal of this testing (other than allowing this group of students bragging rights to wolfing down the first carnitas burrito out of thin air) is to generate data.

“It’ll give us lots of practice conducting flights and completing deliveries to people who aren’t our teammates, which will help us refine our operations for loading and managing a fleet of aircraft,” according to a release from Project Wing. “And just as importantly, this will begin to teach us how people respond to receiving goods through the air via UAS.”

Along with consumer attitudes, lots of other elements during hundreds of deliveries will be studied: the aircraft itself, the aviation electronics involved, operational infrastructure, time, packaging food so it’s hot and in good condition and volume (how a lunchtime rush would be handled).

Project Wing chose food delivery for the first U.S. test because it’s tough to do.

“Food delivery poses a rich set of operating challenges that few other testing scenarios have,” Miller says. “It will help us solve an important set of hard problems quickly, and then it will be a lot easier in the future for us to work with less fragile goods or handle different kinds of time-sensitive items.”

Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe sees the launch of the burritos as a start to something much bigger.

“Virginia Tech’s work with Project Wing will open new markets for Virginia entrepreneurs and make this emerging industry safer and more affordable,” McAuliffe told the Virginia Tech News. “Cutting edge technologies like unmanned systems will help create jobs and diversify our Commonwealth’s private-sector portfolio.”

One day, Project Wing hopes that UAS could be relied on for emergency situations, like getting a defibrillator to someone having a heart attack or delivering medicine to war-torn countries.

Contact Tara Fitzpatrick at [email protected].
Follow her on Twitter: @tara_fitzie

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