Alphabet and Project Wing have gained Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) clearance to conduct the trials, which is something that Amazon has been seeking with its own nascent drone delivery program. When Amazon encountered roadblock after roadblock at the FAA, it packed up its bags and took a trip to the UK to begin further testing.
With this new Chipotle trial, an autonomous Project Wing drone will pick up burritos from a nearby food truck. But here’s where things get interesting — the drone will then take off, fly to its intended target, and hover in place. Warm, tasty burritos will then be lowered down to hungry students using an automated winching system. According to officials for Project Wing, this trial run is being used to sniff out any bugs in its navigational systems and to gauge the public reaction to such an unorthodox way of delivering meals.
"It’s the first time that we’re actually out there delivering stuff to people who want that stuff,” said Project Wing chief Dave Vos in an interview with Bloomberg.
According to Vos, the Chipotle trial will be completely automated from start to finish during food runs, but a human “pilot” can step in at any time to take over the controls should a problem arise. The data gathered from this small-scale test will be used to help develop an even more advanced version of the drone that will be used in future delivery programs.
Late last month, the FAA opening up the flood gates for civilians to become licensed drone operators. On the first day of availability, over 3,000 people signed up to become credentialed. Applicants must be 16 years of age, complete a written test and pass a background check. Once approved, they will be able to operate drones a height of up to 400 feet during the day and within line of sight.
“People are captivated by the limitless possibilities unmanned aircraft offer, and they are already creating business opportunities in this exciting new field,” said Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx in August. “These new rules are our latest step toward transforming aviation and society with this technology in very profound ways.”