An autonomous flying robot delivered burritos to me and a bunch of other Rackers for lunch today. I don’t know if I should be giddy with geek joy or fearfully completing my HERFgun in the basement. Either way, cool cutting edge drone research is happening here in Blacksburg VA as a part of Alphabet’s (Google’s parent company) is doing “as part of an initiative to push research and safety measures for unmanned flight.”
How does Blacksburg rate as one of the limited six “FAA-sanctioned drone test sites”? In a word, Virginia Tech. VT happens to be the home of the Virginia Center for Autonomous Systems (VaCAS), “an ICTAS/College of Engineering research center which facilitates interdisciplinary research in autonomous systems technology.” They even have their own drone test landing strip at Kentland farms just outside the town limits called the Kentland Experimental Aerial Systems (KEAS) laboratory.
But enough about research, let’s talk burrito-drones!
Being one of the larger software dev centers in Blacksburg, Racksburg (our nickname for Rackspace Blacksburg) was invited to come out and partake is this limited, by-invitation-only, test bed research event…and boy was it cool! They are not only researching and solving technical issues with the drone delivery tech itself, but are also figuring out things like: what kinds of orders are doable via drone, what kinds of prices consumers are willing to pay, what level of delivery fees people are most responsive to, and how often the sample clientele are most likely to use such a service (after the new/coolness factor has faded).
So here’s how the test incarnation of this unique food delivery trial run worked.
- Place your order:
This will not be typical once implemented commercially, but in this test run we (the customers) drive to the delivery test venue, take a number to be called to the order kiosk (they’re making an App for this) and place your drone-burrito order. You can order burritos or burrito-bowls (around $6-7 ea). There is also a $6 fee per delivery. While a 100% surcharge is rather steep, a drone can fly two orders at a time so it’s good to find a partner to share the delivery fee.
- Relax and Snack While You Wait:
While you wait for your order to be filled and delivered (which only takes between 6-10 minutes), you’re invited to sit and nosh on free chips, guac and drinks at either their canopy shielded picnic tables or their adirondack chair lounge area where you can watch the drones come and go. Pretty sweet!
- “Look! Here it Comes!”
I’ve got to say.. Drones are awesome, and most everyone loves a good burrito. But together , as one Racker expressed it you will “Experience Pure Burrito Joy!” He was so happy about getting to partake in this über yummy/geeky research project, that he rendered this intricate drawing of the experience. What more can I say!? Oh, I guess we could show a narrated video of the experience:
So I don’t know if it was the burrito, the Garlic Cholulas they had on the table, or the whole drone-burrito-joy experience — but the Alphabet/Project Wing/Chipotle experience was truly magical. Here’s a selfie of my Racker buddy Dave Williams and I noshing on our air-mail delivered lunch (we split the drone delivery fee and so paid just $3 ea).
- Survey Research
Of course as participants in Project Wing, we wanted to do our part by spending the 8-10 minutes needed for filling out their consumer research questionnaire. I recognized their multi-question, market research format by how they really drilled in to how much consumers would be willing to pay for such services, combined with a NPS style closing question formatted in a 0-10 scale of “would you recommend this service to a friend”. I shared that I would be willing to pay $3-4 for such a service, but not more than that (even if it really was this quick), but that I would consider a $2 delivery fee to be a “good deal”. Here’s a shot of some other Rackers filling out their survey, still glowing with “pure burrito joy”.
Over all, Alphabet Inc’s Project Wing burrito drop was a really cool experience, and I was honored that Rackspace was invited to participate. I hope the university and Project Wing folks are able to use our feedback to refine this delivery system of the future…although there was a tongue and cheek joke when one Racker asked, “Can we get lounge chairs that hover so we don’t have to get up to pick up our burrito?” (a cutting narrative reference to what these types of services ultimately led to with regards to human narcissistic laziness in the futuristic Disney film Wall-E).
Let’s all hope that projects and services like these end up bettering mankind and that our future mechanistic overlords don’t take advantage of this new dependency on them. 😉
All joking aside, most technology innovations like these make our lives that much more efficient and convenient. It’s up to us to make sure that we remember to use this extra time to get out, experience and enrich the amazing world in which we live— not use it to turn inward.
 “Delivery Drones to Be Tested in U.S.“, Bloomburg
 VaCAS homepage
 “Alphabet Teams Up With Chipotle For Project Wing Test: Drones Will Deliver Burritos To Virginia Tech “, Tech Times
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