Quadcopters plus tacos plus a delivery service equals a college student's dream, and with it, rampant speculation across the web. Around since last July, the TacoCopter website suddenly grabbed the web's attention days ago with its claim that they will take your order via a smartphone and deliver tacos straight to your location with GPS-guided, unmanned quadcopters.
The notion is both hilarious and intriguing. Yes, April 1 is right around the corner, and yes, everyone's radar for web fakery is high, especially now that the Dutch Birdwings guy has admitted his video of him flying like a bird was fabricated. Yet, Dustin Boyer, co-founder of TacoCopter, assured naysayers that it is real as did Star Simpson, originator of the concept who is an MIT grad and a big fan of quadcopters. Still it's hard to take it seriously when the site's main page also includes an ad for LobsterCopter and it's slogan "Taco Of The East!"
And if TacoCopter were ever to get off the ground, it would only be a matter of time before they would have airspace competitors like ChocoTacoCopter. And it is of course within the domain of the 20-something inventor to think about ways to expedite food delivery, especially late in the night when cravings are strong, and the idea is being tested out with pizza.
TacoCopter is about a dream, but a cool idea that gets buzz is far from operating a legal business. Hobbyists have been flying RC planes and helicopters for years, so it isn't as if no one has ever thought about using them to carry things or take pictures. Now that unmanned aerial vehicles are popular and affordable, the possibilities to use them for business purposes are a plenty, like a real estate agent who wants to take aerial shots of properties. But the federal government was wise to the potential disasters that this could bring and made its own preemptive strike against exactly what TacoCopter is proposing to do. Passed into law this past February, H.R. 658 titled "FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012" ensures that commercial licenses for unmanned aircraft are tough to acquire and model aircraft are strictly relegated to hobby or recreational use as well as the requirement that aircraft are flown within the visual line of sight of the operator.
The number of safety issues involved with the TacoCopter concept is immense, so food delivery is unlikely to happen under the current law, at least in the US. While arguments could be made that the laws should be changed to allow something like this in the future, the liabilities are enormous. Quadcopters, after all, are vehicles with four rapidly spinning blades on them. However, if the stakes were higher, such as delivering medical supplies or delivering food to people stranded during emergencies, that's a different story. In the US, that's still only going to happen through special entities like FEMA, but in other parts of the world, the situation is quite different and ripe for using multicopters in unique ways.
Take Matternet, a startup out of Singularity University that is looking to develop a roadless transportation network using unmanned aerial vehicles so that everyone in the world could have the basic resources they need. Because of the high cost of building and maintaining roads, about 1 billion people in the world live in remote rural areas without reliable road access. The idea is if these communities could be physically connected to local and global markets, a pathway out of poverty toward sustainable living would be possible without their relocation. This would involve an integrated network of drones or other unmanned aircraft routinely delivering goods and supplies back and forth between the isolated areas and the nearest urban hubs. You can learn about Matternet's ambitious vision here:
And perhaps, in the end, that's what TacoCopter is intended to be...a ridiculous idea that sat quietly waiting for the Internet to catch on, get hungry and then dream big. Like it or not, the viral idea is one of the ways that the web is used because looking as if you are the real deal involves merely buying a website domain and putting up a single web page. For young entrepreneurs looking to get partners or funding for related projects, it is an attractive option to get people to take notice.
Whether the founders of this airlifted taco delivery service were ever truly serious about being a business will remain a mystery, but regardless the idea is a cool way to use quadcopters. Furthermore, they've accomplished something significant with their website in that suddenly people around the web are thinking about other ways to use unmanned aircraft besides military purposes. And if that's what it takes to keep ideas flowing and help get other Matternets off the ground, then long live TacoCopter!