The real competitor to driverless cars

by on March 24, 2012 at 3:35 am in Food and Drink | Permalink

Enter the Tacocopter.  It does not seem to be a hoax:

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.

The article is here. And yet there is bad news afoot, and it is no surprise:

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.

For the pointer I thank @ModeledBehavior.  I believe that drone delivery is an idea worthy of further consideration; imagine delivering medicines to the elderly.

Christopher Monnier March 24, 2012 at 4:54 am

Drone delivery is like the “wireless” version of pneumatic tube delivery.

Philonous Atio March 27, 2012 at 4:53 pm

Yes, and pneumatic tube delivery isn’t a novel idea. See

http://www.idlewords.com/2007/04/the_alameda-weehawken_burrito_tunnel.htm

Andreas Moser March 24, 2012 at 5:04 am

Wouldn’t the tacos get smashed once they land?

Andrew' March 24, 2012 at 5:35 am

Great. We’ll be arguing with a helicopter that only speaks Spanish.

Dan Weber March 25, 2012 at 7:05 pm

Is Tico the pilot?

Andreas Moser March 24, 2012 at 5:04 am

I predict a lot of tacos on people’s houses’ roofs and in their swimming pools.

Zachary March 24, 2012 at 5:20 am

+1

Michael March 24, 2012 at 6:35 am

The only really surprising thing about this story for me is that food item being delivered started with tacos and not pizza.

liberalarts March 24, 2012 at 6:48 am

Super cool. Plus, no tip necessary.

senik March 24, 2012 at 6:55 am

Great, now the “terrorists” in the mountains can choose between tacos and a rocket.

Curt F. March 24, 2012 at 7:41 am

From a WSJ blog post published twelve days ago: Or consider Matternet, a Singularity University spin-off attacking both of Ridley’s aforementioned problems—healthcare and freeway repair—simultaneously. Taking advantage of the fact that military-grade autonomous drones have dropped in price by nearly 99 percent over the past decade (radical demonetization), without much loss in functionality, Matternet is planning an AI-enabled network of UAVs and recharging stations housed in shipping containers scattered throughout roadless parts of Africa. Orders are placed via smart phone. For villages disconnected from the global transportation network, this means that everything from replacement parts for farm machinery to medical supplies can now be shipped in via a drone—for less than six cents per kilogram-kilometer.

celestus March 24, 2012 at 8:13 am

But think of the jobs!

John March 24, 2012 at 8:34 am

Still, this is nothing compared to the toilet.

Andrew' March 24, 2012 at 11:02 am

Bean burritos and toilets- complementary goods.

Boonton March 24, 2012 at 8:46 am

Actually it does seem to be a hoax (http://www.wired.com/gadgetlab/2012/03/qa-with-tacocopter/). Well not quite a hoax but an idea for an idea. The device doesn’t really exist and a lot of the programming needs to be worked out (like how the devices will navigate busy streets, weather, possibly humans who might think it fun to snatch a taco off a little flying copter or try to bring it down by tossing rocks at it). But the guy did put up a web site and started collecting emails of people who think they would be interested in ordering tacos from robot drones if the idea ever took off.

Speaking of which, I’m collecting signups for my time machine. I’m auctioning off rights to own the first ten time machines that I produce. The slots will be auctioned off. The way the auction will work is if you send me $100 to be first in line, you’ll be first in line until/unless someone sends me $101 to be first in line. But then you can send me $3 to leap back to first place (your $100 plus $3 is $103). I’ll take paypall or check but if you want you can send me cash using a drone helicopter.

From a game theory perspective, I would suspect only the first position is valuable. The first guy to get a time machine will likely end up ruling the universe making it pretty worthless to the 2nd guy in line. But why take the chance, bid early, bid often and bid high!

Bill March 24, 2012 at 10:24 am

Sign me up for the first machine.

Very truly yours,

Darth Vader

cjc March 24, 2012 at 8:51 am

I can see some service like this delivering picnic baskets to people in parks, actually.

Anyway, for most city deliveries, Mexicans are cheaper that drones.

Bill March 24, 2012 at 9:25 am

I can just imagine.

The college prank of having a pizza delivered to your unsuspecting dormmate next door.

Only this time it will be dropping a pizza on someone.

Bill March 24, 2012 at 9:26 am

New way to get unordered pizza delivered to your enemy living in a gated community.

doctorpat March 25, 2012 at 10:15 pm

But given that it’s prepaid, how does this do anything other than give your enemy a free taco?

Bill March 24, 2012 at 9:27 am

Interesting question: does my privacy right extend to the air above me.

Bill March 24, 2012 at 9:31 am

A new tragedy of the commons in the space above your head. When everyone goes unregulated in the space above you, there is interference, congestion, and externalities.

Think twice before you say this should be unregulated.

Tom March 24, 2012 at 11:07 am

i have a shotgun, I regulate my own airspace ;)

Rahul March 24, 2012 at 9:33 am

What does the FAA have to say?

joshua March 24, 2012 at 9:55 am

18 comments without a “There Is No Great Stagnation”? Pick it up, people!

libert March 24, 2012 at 9:58 am

Great quote by the Tacocopter creator from the article:

“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.”

anon March 24, 2012 at 11:16 am

in a country where you can be killed by drone with no judicial review.”

Huh?

Cathy March 27, 2012 at 12:59 pm
anon March 24, 2012 at 10:46 am

The U.S. government is single-handedly

Oh my! Poor little ole single-handed U.S. government. TGS indeed.

zbicyclist March 24, 2012 at 12:34 pm

The government must be hiring one-handed economists now.

http://www.thredgold.com/html/joke.html “President Harry S. Truman once said he wanted an economist who was one-handed. Why? Because his economic advisors would typically give him economic advice stating, “On the one hand….And on the other….”"

figleaf March 24, 2012 at 11:58 am

“I believe that drone delivery is an idea worthy of further consideration; imagine delivering medicines to the elderly.”

Seriously? I can imagine drone delivery of lots of things being both more relevant, more practical, and of higher utility than this. Including cups of beer in sports stadiums and those silly RedBox discs. (The “bandwidth” of a drone carrying blu-ray discs over neighborhood distances is likely to be competitive with all but the fastest cable downloads.) Medicine delivery “to the elderly” is generally going to require someone opening a door. Which, if they’re too frail to pick up their own medication, and if the medicine is too urgently needed to wait for more conventional delivery, then the speed and cost savings are going to be offset by logistical problems at the point of delivery. (Note: Spend half an hour in a full-service/life-cycle retirement center and let me know if you still think delivery is the biggest bottleneck for the elderly.)

That doesn’t mean robot-drone delivery is a bad idea, just that your “to the elderly” suggestion sounds more like a heartstring tugger or anti-bias amplifier than anything having anything to do with practical economics or logistics.

Also, when you say “single-handedly preventing you” are you saying that if the Dept. of Homeland Security or FAA (just how big a drone are we talking about here?) were to drop its objections there would be no other objections or outcry against hundreds, thousands or (ideally, right?) tens of thousands of Brookstone AR Drones whipping through cities, neighborhoods, or even (“to the elderly, right?) down apartment hallways delivering tacos, medicines, blu-ray discs, and countless annoying fliers and samplers?

Quick question: one of the biggest advantages I see to taco-capable drone delivery is a radical reduction in the price of delivery. When the cost of delivering mail went to ~zero enterprising entrepreneurs began delivering spam in very large quantities. When the cost of air delivery of smaller-than-a-taco items begins to approach zero what do you think the spam equivalent will be? And when we reach that point will “the Federal government” be the only single-handed entity trying to stop it or will there be, oh, say, majority outcry against it? (Remember, government was very late to the spam-stopping game and only got involved when Congressional offices began to be overloaded not so much with spam as with real communication from seriously outraged constituents.)

figleaf

joshua March 24, 2012 at 1:10 pm

Medicine delivery “to the elderly” is generally going to require someone opening a door

As long as we’re imagining, why limit ourselves to such assumptions? Surely by then the little drones will be smart enough to navigate through open windows. They’ll have to be Smart Windows, though, to keep all the spam drones out.

Steve D March 24, 2012 at 1:28 pm

You outfit the drone with a tranquilizer gun, put the meds in the syringe, fly over to the delivery site and zap. Better yet, if you get all flamey and trolly on-line, the ISP figures out where you are and zaps you with Prozac.

More scary, an urban airspace full of drones would be a hit man’s dream. Use an on-board camera to spot your prey and he’s history. Shoot him with ricin or polonium to kill him long after the drone is gone. Register all drones? That will work as well as registering all firearms. It would be a piece of cake to sanitize a drone so it would be untraceable.

Matthew N March 24, 2012 at 10:04 pm

The way we imagine this happening is people will be able to use smartphones as homing devices. So once a drone is close enough it will home in to the smartphone where you are standing on the back porch.

Medicines may be one component. Cooked meals is another, anything bought from the internet, a 6 pack of beer or maybe that icecream you were craving.

What pretty much all discussions around this topic assume is that the drones will be delivering a product. Yet the cost of drones is anticipated to be so low that the most revolutionary change in logistics won’t be in the space of B2B OR B2C, but in P2P….

Matthew Newton
Driverless Car HQ

Chris MacDonald March 24, 2012 at 1:03 pm

Nevermind the elderly… what about drones for delivering medication to isolated rural locations in developing nations, or in the wake of natural disasters?

Dan March 24, 2012 at 1:52 pm

Don’t imagine the cute little electric quadrocopters you see doing stunts in videos will deliver your lunch.. To stay in continuous service and carry the load, think bigger, noisier machines. Think flying leaf blowers.

Bender Bending Rodriguez March 24, 2012 at 7:02 pm

Why is it that “leaf blower” was the first thing that came to mind in a post about tacos?

Dan March 26, 2012 at 12:32 pm

Don’t go there, Bender. In my neck of the woods, most leaf blower jockeys resemble Larry the Cable Guy. Anyway, I was planning to order sushi.

Willitts March 24, 2012 at 2:34 pm

I think this is how Skynet got started in the conquest of mankind.

NAME REDACTED March 24, 2012 at 2:47 pm

Why are the comments so negative? This is one of the best ideas I have seen in a very long time.

AC March 24, 2012 at 3:28 pm

Let me know when they have a ‘pizza copter.’

name March 24, 2012 at 3:48 pm

” I believe that drone delivery is an idea worthy of further consideration; imagine delivering medicines to the elderly.”

not-sure-if-serious.jpg

TallDave March 24, 2012 at 6:42 pm

Well, this tears it: TGS has been officially disproved.

Christopher Rasch March 24, 2012 at 6:53 pm

TacoCopter? Gimme the MethCopter.

Sanjay March 24, 2012 at 7:59 pm

Doesn’t the CIA already do this in Pakistan? I mean, not with tacos, though.

Cathy March 27, 2012 at 1:00 pm

+1

Three Pipe Problem March 24, 2012 at 8:48 pm

It “does not seem to be a hoax”? Did you try Googling “tacocopter hoax”??

Wired says it’s fake.
http://www.wired.com/gadgetlab/2012/03/qa-with-tacocopter/

President Camacho March 25, 2012 at 2:06 am

I can see how it would all unfold:

An SWPL on the Upper East Side orders an organic veggie taco from his iPhone, and as the delivery drone takes off and soars over Harlem the colored militias strap up and scramble for the rooftops, pointing up and yelling at their existential foe: the wicked ‘iron bird’…. Tacocopter loses half of its fleet to congoid anti-aircraft fire in the first few months.

Tacocopter counters by restricting deliveries through civilized airspace only, but then some enterprising thug sues them for civil rights violations and invokes the Commerce Clause in his complaint. SCOTUS stands behind the negro insurgents with a 6-3 decision and declares Tacocopter to be a ‘terrorist’ enterprise. As part of the ambitious remedy, Taco Bell is granted a monopoly on domestic taco sales to bolster the security of America’s food supply.

Boonton March 25, 2012 at 11:45 am

I think the cries of gov’t overregulation here are cleary premature. Since no one actually has a ‘taco-copter’ no one has seriously tried to see if current regulations could be navigated to lauch a sensible business out of them. And no I don’t believe there’s an actual FAA regulation that actually says ‘unnmanned arieal vehicles may not be used for commercial purposes’.

Delivery is a pretty large business. I could see lots of applications such as auto parts outlets delievering to gas stations and repair shops. The number of ‘customers’ will be fixed and known ahead of time. Many of them need parts during the course of the business day when local streets may be jammed full of cars. Likewise law firms and businesses may also be the first to use something like this. Even the post office itself. I can imagine a drone hitting the major buildings in a downtown city area during the day shuffling mail back and forth between a post office located away from the action. You may even be able to get back to having mail more than once a day in some areas. Go with a simplier problem first, shuttling back and forth to customers who are at fixed points rather than trying to chase customers with smartphones around!

But here’s what makes the idea difficult. It’s not like delivery people are some giant group of rent seekers. The guy who brings me pizza is driving a cheap car and does not look like he is cleaning up. Auto parts drivers, bike messsengers and the like are likewise not an exceptionally high cost industry. It’s not clear to me that it would not be better to just continue using that source of low cost labor rather than making massive capital investments to build a system of unmanned robots to shuttle oil filters back and forth when you can just give a box of parts to a 19 yr old kid and pay him $20 for two hours of work in the morning.

Likewise even after the capital costs have been sunk to make the system, its operating costs may be higher than one would think. I suspect stealing from delivery drones will be very popular and ‘hackers’ will consider it good sport to try to override their programming….not to mention pranksters who will have fun trying to knock them out of the sky. Something you can’t easily do with people as the laws against assault and battery make for a pretty good deterrent…that and people will often smack back!

axa March 25, 2012 at 4:53 pm

you can not compare directly this drone heli to the pizza guy using a bike, a motorbike or the 94 honda civic hatchback. there is one big difference: YIELD!

helis flight in straight lines, no lights, no traffic jams, 24/7. so a drone can replace many humans deliverers. i don’t know how many times a drone is more efficient than existing systems, but i’m sure is faster.

it also solves another problem. how many times the UPS/FedEx delivery guy just leaves a note cause you’re not at home? you can use your phone, send a message that you’re at home and receive your package under 4 lbs (just a guess on the heli payload) at 1 AM. no problem at all!!!

come, delivery guy going 2 or 3 times to your home is NOT efficient at all =)

yes, with bad weather this things wont work, you still have to got taco spot, pharmacie or whatever, but please, be a little more optimistic. don’t let the japanese be first once again =(

Boonton March 25, 2012 at 11:18 pm

The pizza guy is able to fill his entire back seat up with pizzas. The auto parts guy doesn’t even need to worry about his packages getting cold so he can fill up the entire car. The mini-copter seems premised on making on delivery at a time. If you want to scale it up to something larger then you start veering towards a flying car…if you can do an unmanned version of that then you can do an unmanned car even easier.

Boonton March 25, 2012 at 11:20 pm

And the UPS guy doesn’t make a special trip to your home 1 or 2 times. He stops by your home one or two times in the process of making multiple pickups and deliveries.

Roger Koppl March 25, 2012 at 5:32 pm

It’s totally tongue in cheek. The entrepreneurs might really wish to do something with little drones. Why not? But did you click the site? If there’s a serious idea at the back of it, it ain’t tacocopter. I fully expect to see an ad from Taco Bell on April 1st announcing the service.

rcyran March 26, 2012 at 9:56 am

Funny.

Come on, does anyone really expect the margins on airborne delivery of tacos to be positive? Weight to cost ratio all wrong.

Cathy March 27, 2012 at 1:02 pm

It’s not a hoax or a fake. It’s a brilliant attempt to make the unseen effects of licensure requirements on innovation seen by showing what we could be enjoying without the FAA’s stranglehold on unmanned aircraft.

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