Image 1 - TacoCopter: Separating Fact From Fiction
March 25, 2012

TacoCopter: Separating Fact From Fiction

A service that promises to deliver fresh, hot Mexican food to you using an unmanned drone helicopter has gained a lot of attention in recent days, especially given contrasting reports as to whether or not this supposed Silicon Valley start-up is for real.

The business in question is TacoCopter, whose website claims that their "flying robots" will deliver tacos (and presumably burritos and other similar types of cuisine) to an individual who has placed an order using his or her smartphone.

TacoCopter, which according to the website is in private beta in the San Francisco Bay area, promises that their "unmanned delivery agents are fast and work tirelessly" and encourages prospective customers to "just tap and let the machines do the rest." Furthermore, they claim to be hiring, they are offering t-shirts and hats for sale, and they encourage East Coast residents to check out their sister service, LobsterCopter.

It sounds like the stuff of an April Fool's Day joke, but is it for real?

On Thursday, Nick Mediati of PCWorld said that it was "hard to not be at least a little skeptical“¦ I imagine there are all sorts of logistical issues that would have to be figured out for something like this to work." The following day, he updated his original report, saying, "As we kind of suspected, TacoCopter isn't an actual service."

That update came on the heels of a March 23 story from Wired's Christina Bonnington, who discovered unequivocally that TacoCopter "isn't a real app or startup" and that the "technical, safety and legal hurdles facing such a taco-delivery system are near insurmountable in today´s environment."

Bonnington added that the website was a "product concept" created by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) graduate Star Simpson. Simpson who told Wired that the idea originated in part from her fascination with quadcopters and a desire to explore the automated flying machines in "non-flying death robot contexts," and in part from a desire to "keep thinking about how to make something like this work."

Jason Gilbert of the Huffington Post also interviewed Simpson about her creation, which she co-founded along with colleagues Dustin Boyer and Scott Torborg in July 2011, according to Gilbert. In that interview, Simpson spoke of the possible venture and some of the obstacles of actually launching the business, so to speak.

"Current U.S. FAA regulations prevent ... using UAVs [Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, like drones] for commercial purposes at the moment," Simpson told the Huffington Post via online chatroom, conceding that it was "not totally unreasonable to regulate something as potentially dangerous as having flying robots slinging tacos over people's heads."

Of course, FAA regulations aren't the only hiccup in getting the unmanned robotic taco delivery service off the ground, according to Gilbert.

Some of those possible problems include things 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."

As such, Gilbert said that 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."

Never fear, though, says Andy Boxall of Digital Trends. The glorious day when a person might actually be able to go online using a smartphone app, order some Mexican cuisine, and have is delivered to them by an unmanned quadcopter drone may one day come.

"Although every fiber of our being wants it to be real, it's almost certainly not. But that´s not to say it´s pure fantasy, or just an amusing joke, as things could change in the future," Boxall wrote.

"Drones are becoming more commonplace in the military and law enforcement, and app-controlled quad-copters such as the Parrot AR.Drone are freely available. Plus, quirky, food-related startups can attract some serious backing, as The Melt proved last year," he added. "The creators of TacoCopter have put the two together, and must now wait for the regulations to move with the times."