Drones to Deliver Fast Food to Virginia Tech University

13 September, 2016

Students in the American state of Virginia will soon be able to order burritos carried by unmanned aircraft.

The food delivery service is starting at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg, Virginia.

This will be one of the first tests of a commercial drone delivery service in the United States.

Project Wing is conducting research flights with Virginia Tech's Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership to explore food deliveries by unmanned drone aircraft. (Photo Courtesy: Project Wing)
Project Wing is conducting research flights with Virginia Tech's Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership to explore food deliveries by unmanned drone aircraft. (Photo Courtesy: Project Wing)

Virginia Tech's Project Wing is partnering with the restaurant company Chipotle Mexican Grill on the experiment.

Chipotle partnership

Project Wing is part of X, a laboratory once known as Google X. It researches and tests unmanned aerial vehicles, also known as drones. The lab studies the use of drones to transport food, medicine and other goods.

After the students place their order, the burritos will be made at a food truck and loaded onto a drone. The aircraft will fly the burritos to a pickup area, then lower them to the ground.

The drones are able to fly like a plane or hover in the air, like a helicopter. The flights will be limited to an area on Virginia Tech property away from the main campus grounds, according to the university's Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership. The partnership is one of six groups approved by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to carry out unmanned drone tests.

Only a small group of people at Virginia Tech will be able to use the service at first, according to the director of the partnership, Mark Blanks.

"It is real customers that are working and need lunch and want it delivered by drone," he said.

Mark Warner of Virginia serves in the U.S. Senate. He said the research will help improve the development of unmanned aircraft technology.

"The commercial use of drones for package and food delivery in U.S. airspace is rapidly becoming a reality," he said.

Research important to drone development

In addition to Google's parent Alphabet, other companies are testing drones as a way to make deliveries faster and more efficient. These include Amazon, UPS, FedEx and Dominos Pizza.

The FAA recently estimated there will be about 600,000 commercial drones operating in the United States within one year. The agency made the estimate while announcing new rules for commercial drone operators.

The tests are seen as important because they can demonstrate the ability to deliver fresh, hot food without involving humans.

Virginia Tech said the burrito project will explore food delivery with limitations such as time, amount, temperature, frequency and packaging.

"This is the most complex delivery flight operation that I am aware of that's occurred on U.S. soil," Blanks told Bloomberg.

I'm Bryan Lynn.

Bryan Lynn wrote this story for VOA Learning English, with additional information from an Associated Press report. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

burrito – n. a Mexican food that consists of a flour tortilla that is rolled or folded around a filling

delivery – n. the act of taking something to a person or place

commercialadj. of or related to the buying and selling of goods and services

drone n. a small flying machine flown remotely

hoverv. to stay moving in the air without much movement from side to side

efficientadj. producing desired results without wasting materials, time or energy

frequencyn. how often something happens