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GCN : October and November 2016
GCN OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2016 • GCN.COM 5 Drone delivery could be a reality for some Chipotle customers in Blacks- burg, Va., as Virginia Tech’s Mid-Atlan- tic Aviation Partnership (MAAP) teams up with Alphabet’s Project Wing to test food delivery using unmanned aerial systems. Virginia Tech is one of six test sites for UAS designated by the Federal Aviation Administration, and it is the first time Project Wing has worked with one of the sites, according to a university statement. “Last year, while discussing the entrepreneurial spirit at Virginia Tech, I jokingly speculated we might one day have quadcopters delivering ramen noodles around campus,” Virginia Tech President Tim Sands said. “Apparently I wasn’t off by much.” Those involved with the project say food is a good case study for drones because of the variables required to get it right: timing, packaging and repeatability. “Package delivery by drone, especial- ly for rapid turnaround operations like food delivery, is one of the most chal- lenging applications of this technol- ogy,” MAAP Director Mark Blanks said in the university’s announcement. The research will address many of the policy and safety issues the FAA and industry are wrestling with: beyond-line-of-sight operations, flight over densely populated areas and coordination with other aircraft. Project Wing, a Google X program, focuses on the delivery of everyday goods by small unmanned aircraft in an effort to open up a new commerce system that could be more efficient than ground transportation. Project Wing lead Dave Vos said the knowledge gathered through testing with Virginia Tech will be an important part of moving drones into regular use. “Our collaboration will generate new data on the operation of a delivery sys- tem and aircraft and will help gather insights about how people might use an aerial delivery system in their daily lives,” he said in a statement. MAAP has been a leader in UAS testing. In July 2015, it worked with NASA’s Langley Research Center to fly a remotely operated, full-sized aircraft carrying medical supplies from Tazewell County in southwest Virginia to the Lonesome Pine Airport in Wise County, Va. From there, staff from the drone company Flirtey separated the supplies into 24 small packages and delivered them to a local clinic through repeated flights over the span of two hours. Virginia politicians, who have been vocal in their support for UAS research in the past, have praised this project as well. “The commercial use of drones for package and food delivery in U.S. airspace is rapidly becoming a reality,” Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) said in a statement. “We are pleased to work with Project Wing and other great partners to leverage Virginia Tech’s tremendous research capacity to capitalize on the tremendous busi- ness potential promised by unmanned aircraft systems technology.” • Burrito delivery by drone BY MATT LEONARD [BrieFing] VIRGINIATECH Project Wing will be conducting research flights with Virginia Tech’s Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership to explore food delivery by unmanned aerial vehicles. 1116gcn_005-007.indd 5 10/6/16 11:46 AM
August and September 2016
January and February 2017