Alphabet Partners with Chipotle to Test Drone-delivered Burritos

Google drone deliveryStories of drone deliver services have become increasingly common in the past couple of years, but were still yet to see a major rollout. The latest contender is Google parent company Alphabet, which is partnering with Chipotle for a small trial at Virginia Tech.

The trial, starting this month, will use unmanned drones from Alphabets experimental X division to deliver burritos on-campus.

Its far from a full launch, however – the trial will be limited to a few hundred deliveries, to a single office building – and the deliveries wont be entirely automated all the way to peoples desks. Drones will carry the food a few hundred feet from a Chipotle truck to a worker who will then actually distribute the orders to customers.

The pilot is sanctioned by the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration), and is part of a program collecting data on drone flights in order to develop regulations, which have been one of the biggest factor blocking their general deployment to date.

Astro Teller, captain of moonshots at X, described what Alphabet is hoping to learn from the trial in a blog post:

“At this stage, it’s important that a lot of our testing happens in front of people who aren’t our teammates,” Teller wrote. “We want to learn how people feel when they’re receiving a package by air, and taking someone’s time and/or money changes things more than a little. And we want to feel the pressure of unexpected circumstances that show us how we can get better at loading and managing a fleet of planes.

“Now, you might be wondering how we decided to deliver food. It’s simple: our goal is to maximise learning, and food delivery poses a rich set of operating challenges that few other testing scenarios have. A lunchtime rush of burrito orders will crank up the operational pressure of multiple orders coming in during a short period of time. We’ll get to test how to package sensitive cargo and how well it endures the journey (after all, everyone wants their meal hot and in the right shape). In future tests, we could add a broader range of items, like drinks, which will push us to handle more weight, keep packages carefully balanced, and manage combinations of items on a single flight.”