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Drones, despite years of experience at war, are not yet a technology that’s ready for widespread commercial use. That hasn’t stopped businesses, including pizza restaurants, dry cleaners, and cake companies, from cashing in on the future prematurely. These drones, often converted toy models, are typically enlisted to deliver goods, even though they can be pretty wobbly, and they don’t carry a whole lot. They are also not terribly cost-effective, especially when compared with a twentysomething with a bike looking to make some spare beer money.
But the drones don’t actually need to be good at what they do. Simply by virtue of being drones, they’ve already served as news-catching gimmicks and cheap ad pitchmen. Here are seven of the best–by which we mean silliest–gimmick drones.
Tacos, ordered by smartphone and delivered through the sky right into customers waiting hands! It was a promise too good to be true, and Tacocopter remains in an invite-only beta to this day, 17 months after its March 2012 launch. The Tacocopter site is registered to Star Simpson, who founded Tacocopter with two other Bay Area collaborators. Anyone who wishes to give people money for the idea of a tacocopter can buy a T-shirt from the website.
Hot on the heels of the Tacocopter came Darwin Aerospace’s Burrito Bomber, a small, remotely controlled airplane that drops parachute-equipped burritos to the waiting hands and mouths of customers ordering by smartphone. In December 2012, they released a hipsteriffic video of the bomber in action. Darwin Aerospace is a small research lab, and they acknowledge on their website website that this isn’t commercially viable until 2015. Waiting until 2015 for a burrito from the sky is harrrrd, so Darwin Aerospace made a video game about a plane that fires burritos at hungry people and angry owls. I’ll take it.
The Beer Drone
Announced in April, the beer drone is designed to to deliver precision cans of alcohol to concert-goers at the Oppikoppi music festival from August 8 to 10 in South Africa. The drone can only carry one beer at a time, making it a significantly less effective delivery method than even a person with a backpack and a bike, but beer cans parachuting through the air is obviously much cooler.
Domino’s Delivery Drone
Dubbed the “DomiCopter,” this drone delivers Domino’s pizza to hungry Britons. Or, well, it did at least once (see this video released by Domino’s June 3). A joint venture between Domino’s, drone company Aerosight, and two advertising firms, this was ostensibly a test of super futuristic pizza delivery methods. The cameras on the drone, aimed carefully at the Domino’s logo, and the glowing writeup in Adweek suggest that this is one big a publicity scheme. If publicity stunts like this ultimately lead to a future of pizza-carrying robots, I am fully on board.
Drone Sushi Waiters
Sushi restaurants have long used conveyor belts to present tasty morsels to customers, but assembly-line meals are sooooooo 20th century. The future, instead, is all about sushi on wobbly drone-carried plates, piloted by a man standing not three feet away. At a YO! Sushi restaurant in SoHo, London, customers were treated to the clumsy motions of a Parrot AR drone carrying a tray and piloted through an iPhone app. The drone delivery service is still in the test phases, and it remains to be seen if wobbly flying robots can out-perform the tried-and-true conveyor belt.
Shanghai cake company Incake set up a premium delivery service, flying cakes by drone to customers who selected the option when ordering online. The service has since been suspended after police complained about public safety, but for a brief moment cakes flew through the air, trailed by an accompanying pursuit vehicle with a pilot inside. The pursuit vehicle could probably have delivered more cakes more efficiently on its own, but that’s much worse marketing than a camera-toting drone descending from the sky to give cake to a smiling child.
Manayunk Drycleaners in Philadelphia are using a drone for special deliveries. The drone carries a couple of dry-cleaned shirts to a customers within walking distance. With a two-person team, one piloting the drone and the other making sure the pilot doesn’t walk into anything, the drones deliver with flair (albeit startling inefficiency). Come 2015, drones capable of carrying more weight, flying farther distances, and perhaps even making multiple deliveries might be a possibility, but for now anyone who wants a robot to deliver clothes will probably still have to tip the two guys walking right behind it.