Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Tacocopter? Star Simpson may be on to something.

A few months back, the Huffington Post had an article on Tacocopter, a Silicon Valley “start up” that will deliver tacos via drone.

Indeed, the concept behind Tacocopter is very simple, and very American: You order tacos on your smartphone and also beam in your GPS location information. Your order -- and your location -- are transmitted to an unmanned drone helicopter (grounded, near the kitchen where the tacos are made), and the tacocopter is then sent out with your food to find you and deliver your tacos to wherever you're standing.

You pay online, so the tacos are simply dropped off at your feet by the drone helicopter, which then flies back to the restaurant to pick up its next order.

Taco Bell and Old El Paso have, as yet, nothing to fear.

[Co-founder Star] Simpson told HuffPost that because of the FAA's regulations -- as well as other minor problems, like navigating the treacherous terrain of an urban environment, keeping the food warm, finding a city map precise enough to avoid crashes 100 percent of the time, avoiding birds, balconies and telephone wires, delivering food to people indoors, delivering food to the right person, dealing with greedy humans who would just steal the Tacocopter as soon as it got to them, etc. -- the Tacocopter website exists more as a conversation starter about the future of food delivery (and delivery in general), as well as about the commercial uses of unmanned vehicles, than an actual startup plan or business

Indeed, TacoCopter appears to be nothing more than a web page, with a nod to the East Coast with a reference to  LobsterCopter.

The name Star Simpson was familiar to me, and I realized that I had blogged about her when she pulled an undergraduate MIT prank by showing up at Logan Airport (and getting arrested) while wearing a sweatshirt that looked like a bomb. She wanted to stand out on MIT’s Career Day, which, indeed, she did.

Boring, prude-y, old-school scold that I am – or was: that post was a not-so-cool 4.5 years ago – I thought that there would be prospective employers who looked askance at this little bit of performance art. There may have been, but Star is not all that interested in taking the boring, corporate career route. She is apparently a brilliant, entrepreneurial Geek Girl who’s the electrical engineer at work creating:

Canidu, an "electronics learning play set" for young children interested in electrical engineering.

Which sounds like a great idea, and a far more beneficial and useful major than, say, basket weave.

…Star originally developed Canidu as a research project in the Lifelong Kindergarten Group at the MIT Media Lab.

Lifelong Kindergarten. Sigh! If only…

Anyway, I wish nothing but great success for Canidu, and I hope that Star becomes a super-star.

As for Tacocopter, I’m sure that Star and her co-founders are on to something. It will just be a matter of time before drones or some other form of robotic delivery service replaces the reckless drivers from Domino’s or the guy on the Upper Crust bicycle. Yet another low-skill, no barrier to entry job of the sort that everyone should have while they’re young. As low-skill jobs go, however, this has got to be one of the more dangerous ones, so it won’t be the end of the world if it winds up being completely automated. And anything that can be completely automated will be completely automated. Leaving us with one of the central questions of the 21st century: what are average (let alone below average) people going to do for work?

Tacocopter may have gotten the thumbs down from the FAA, but, as I learned from the WSJ the other day,

With little public attention, dozens of universities and law-enforcDRONE_SUBement agencies have been given approval by federal aviation regulators to use unmanned aircraft known as drones, according to documents obtained via Freedom of Information Act requests by an advocacy group.

I glanced through the list, and was relieved to note that New England is pretty much a drone-free zone. At least for now. But the police departments in North Little Rock, Arkansas, and Ogden, Utah, have been given the okay to do drone surveillance.

There is really next to nothing that can be done to stop, or even slow down, the march of technology.

Still, I’d just as soon not live in a world where drones have the potential to watch my every move. Yikes! This was a scary enough prospect when I believed that God could do it. But the Massachusetts State Police? Maybe I should start designing my tin-foil beanie now.

But before we know it, drones will no doubt everywhere, and the National Drone Association will be reminding us that “if drones are outlawed, only outlaws will have drones.”

Lord help us!

Personally, I’d rather that drones were used to deliver tacos or lobsters.

And speaking of lobsters, the incremental loss of privacy – hey, who cares if Google knows I searched for Star Simpson – reminds me of the story about the lobster in the pot of cold water. By the time it realizes it’s going to be boiled, it’s too late…

1 comment:

Lainaa Netistä said...

Ive been following this from Finland and all I can say is that Simpson definitely is on something =)