Delivered by Drones

Are Tacocopters and Burrito Bombers the next Pony Express?

iTray, flying sushi delivery.

A flying sushi service tray known as the “iTray,” created using miniature remote-controlled helicopter rotor blades, is demonstrated by staff at a Yo Sushi restaurant in London on June 10, 2013Photo by Neil Hall / Reuters

The drones are coming! The drones are coming! But this time they’re not armed with hellfire missiles. These drones are packing a new kind of heat: steaming pizzas, fresh tacos, and cold beer.

Drones—the popular term for a wide range of unmanned aerial vehicles that are autonomous, semi-autonomous, or totally remote controlled—are not just limited to military use. Even though drones rightfully call up images of large, ominous, lethal, all-seeing machines, their smaller cousins are breaking into the civilian world of consumer products and business operations. And they’re doing so in a variety of strange ways that may change the face of modern transportation—from how late-night munchies arrive at your doorstep to how equipment and medicine is delivered to remote regions.

Some of the proposed everyday uses of drones fully embrace the bizarre. Early last year, the announcement of a new startup called Tacocopter started plenty of buzz. By using a smartphone app, you, the hungry consumer, could punch in an order for tasty Mexican fare and soon a quadcopter drone laden with tacos woul­d be on its way to your house or office—no tip necessary. Stephen Colbert lampooned the idea on his show: “Thanks to the imagineers at Tacopter, now, wherever I am, by sending my cellphones GPS coordinates I can call in a surgical flavor strike that will level my hunger with significant collateral deliciousness.” However, much to the dismay of many tech writers, Tacocopter and its convincing websiteended up just being a product concept that was announced to gin up interest rather than an actual startup.

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