Anyone who has ever waited, stomach growling, for a restaurant's delivery driver to finally show up with their food must have been heartened by the advances in flying fast food delivery robots in 2012. It all started in February with the now-infamous Tacocopter, a conceptual design for an iPhone app in which you would input your location and taco order into a smartphone and beam that information to a Mexican restaurant; the restaurant would cook up the order, attach it to the bottom of a small drone quadcopter and then fly the order over the city and drop the bag at the orderer's feet. The app wasn't real, but it sparked so much Internet conversation that the inventors created a prototype Tacocopter and held a ceremonial first flight in Shanghai, where they flew a handmade taco about ten feet. This inspired several other real-life airborne delivery robots, including Leonardo, a pizza drone, and the Burrito Bomber, which parachute-drops burritos down from high in the sky.
More meaningful than these initial prototypes—which we may look back on as we do those wacky flying machines made before the Wright Brothers—was a piece of Washington legislation that could eventually give them liftoff. The FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 required the United States to issue rules on the use of unmanned aerial vehicles by private entities; we might one day remember the act as the one that cleared the skies for a fleet of Chipotle or Panda Express delivery drones.
There are still numerous technical obstacles standing in the way of an actual, sustainable Tacocopter, including navigation issues, scalability, inclement weather, birds, power lines, rogue drone thieves and general danger to human limbs and pedestrians. If the daring minds behind these early prototypes continue hammering away at the issue at the rate they did in 2012, however, you might soon find yourself answering the question: "Honey, how much should we tip the delivery robot?" —Jason O. Gilbert, The Huffington Post (@gilbertjasono)