Burrito drops to test drone deliveries for Alphabet Inc

AFP, SAN FRANCISCO

Sat, Sep 10, 2016 - Page 10

A team at Google parent Alphabet Inc working on unmanned aerial systems this month will try delivering burritos by drone on a college campus in Virginia.

Astro Teller, playfully referred to as the “Captain of Moonshots” at an X lab created at Google to pursue big-vision projects such as drones and self-driving cars, said in a blog post that Project Wing team was ready to launch the test of a prototype drone delivery system.

US officials announced last month that Alphabet is joining tests for drone deliveries, as the White House unveiled accelerated rule-making for commercial unmanned aircraft operations.

Teller said that a Wing prototype is ready for testing and that the team will run hundreds of flights in Virginia over the course of several days to deliver lunches prepared in an on-site food truck by Mexican food chain Chipotle.

“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,” Teller said.

“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,” he said.

The Project Wing team opted to try out delivering food to create operating challenges including “a lunchtime rush of burrito orders” as well as having to get food to customers hot and in the right shape, according to Teller.

“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,” he added.

He believes drones will be available within the next decade for important missions such as delivering medicine and other supplies to areas cut off by disasters and helping emergency responders battle wildfires.

At a “White House Drone Day” event last month, officials announced steps toward expanding rules for drone operations, including for news gathering and commercial flights over populated areas, after a first set of regulations unveiled in June.

“We hope to propose a rule on unmanned aircraft operations over people by the end of this year,” US Federal Aviation Administration chief Michael Huerta said.

Separately, Google on Thursday announced a deal to pay US$625 million for Apigee, a firm specializing in managing the application programming interfaces, or APIs, that businesses use to connect with customers online.

APIs “are vital for how business gets done today in the fast-growing digital and mobile marketplace,” Google senior vice president Diane Greene said in a blog post about the acquisition.

“They’re the hubs through which companies, partners and customers interact, whether it’s a small business applying online for a loan or a point-of-sale system sending your warranty information to the manufacturer,” she added.

For example, APIs can enable a business’s computer networks to communicate with apps on smartphones or tablets.