March 24, 2012
Look, up in the sky! It's a bird! It's a plane!
It's an unmanned drone helicopter shooting a taco from space down at you and your colleagues during lunchtime!
The Internet is going wild for Tacocopter , perhaps the next great startup out of Silicon Valley, which boasts a business plan that combines four of the most prominent touchstones of modern America: tacos, helicopters, robots and laziness.
Indeed, the concept behind Tacocopter is very simple, and very American: You order tacos on your smartphone and also beam in your GPS location information. Your order -- and your location -- are transmitted to an unmanned drone helicopter (grounded, near the kitchen where the tacos are made), and the tacocopter is then sent out with your food to find you and deliver your tacos to wherever you're standing.
You pay online, so the tacos are simply dropped off at your feet by the drone helicopter, which then flies back to the restaurant to pick up its next order.
Brilliant, right? You're probably ready to order a sackful of fish tacos to be delivered to you by a semi-autonomous flying robot as we speak!
Well, put down your smartphones, because here comes some bad news: The launch of Tacocopter -- which is totally real, by the way, despite some doubters , and has been around since July 2011 -- is being blocked by the U.S. government.
HuffPost spoke with Star Simpson, one of Tacocopter's three cofounders (along with Dustin Boyer and Scott Torborg ), who said that one of the main obstacles to getting Tacocopter off the ground (sorry) is, indeed, the government. Alert the Tea Party (or, perhaps, the Taco Party?):
"Current U.S. FAA regulations prevent ... using UAVs [Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, like drones] for commercial purposes at the moment," Simpson said over Gchat. "Honestly I think it's not totally unreasonable to regulate something as potentially dangerous as having flying robots slinging tacos over people's heads ... [O]n the other hand, it's a little bit ironic that that's the case in a country where you can be killed by drone with no judicial review."
Simpson told HuffPost that because of the FAA's regulations -- as well as other minor problems, like navigating the treacherous terrain of an urban environment, keeping the food warm, finding a city map precise enough to avoid crashes 100 percent of the time, avoiding birds , balconies and telephone wires, delivering food to people indoors, delivering food to the right person, dealing with greedy humans who would just steal the Tacocopter as soon as it got to them, etc. -- the Tacocopter website exists more as a conversation starter about the future of food delivery (and delivery in general), as well as about the commercial uses of unmanned vehicles, than an actual startup plan or business.
But that's just for now, as Simpson seems convinced that the potential benefits of Tacocopter and the idea behind unmanned delivery of physical goods, outweigh the barriers:
"[Q]uadcopter or drone delivery would affect how we operate in ways we don't quite even have the ability to explore at this time," Simpson said. Deployment of drones in restaurants as waiters and waitresses, and delivery to locations previously unreachable -- say you want a taco while you're sitting on the beach, for example -- are two possible use cases; the speed with which a fleet of helicopters could distribute a package as compared to delivery drivers makes the Tacocopter, and the commercial use of drones, an intriguing prospect.
(As for the worry that these tacocopters could eliminate delivery jobs: "I don't think that's what tacocopters really stand for," Simpson said. "But it's certainly the sort of robophobia we've lived with for a long time.")
Simpson, who recently studied at MIT in the Personal Robots Group , has since moved on from Tacocopter to work on Canidu, an "electronics learning play set" for young children interested in electrical engineering. Despite having a new focus, Tacocopter certainly remains on her radar, especially given recent interest on the Internet. She is not giving up on Tacocopter and urges everyone who wants to stay updated to sign up for the Tacocopter mailing list at Tacocopter.com.
"[Tacocopter] is something I return to all the time," she said, when asked about the delivery service's future prospects. "It's something I definitely would like to see and have mulled many ways to make work."
"We've talked about going for it enough that it would be hard for me to even say it was dormant. It's really the legal obstacles in the U.S. that seem insurmountable at this time."
So, there you have it: The U.S. government is single-handedly preventing you from ordering a taco and having it delivered to you by a totally sweet pilot-less helicopter. So get out your pitchforks, sign those petitions, start calling your local congressmen, and let them know: We want our tacos hurled at us by giant buzzing robotic helicopters, and we want them now .
Let's do this, America: Together, we can team up and make a future with Tacocopters a reality today.