Roblog is a weekly column dedicated to understanding the world of robotics. If science fiction is right and the impending robot apocalypse is real, it can’t hurt to be prepared. Come back every Wednesday for a new blog of robot rants.
The Internet was taken by storm last week when a San Francisco based start-up announced plans for Tacocopter—a system where people could order tacos via smartphone and have them delivered by an unmanned drone. News sources, comedy shows and the social media community alike came together to share their love of tacos and their excitement over the possibility of having them delivered by robot at their convenience.
Unfortunately, the Tacocopter start-up was never a reality. Tacocopters don’t (and probably won’t) exist. One of the founders of the start-up, curiously enough, is the same Star Simpson who was arrested in Boston in 2007 for wearing a LED light shirt that authorities believed was a bomb threat. Simpson says that while she wouldn’t call the start-up a joke, at this point the high-tech delivery company is more of a conversation starter. Simpson is particularly interested in the potential for robocopters to be used “in non-flying death robot contexts.” Even if the start-up had actually created a taco delivery drone, its use is currently impossible, as Federal Aviation Administration regulations prevent the use of unmanned aircraft for commercial services.
No one will be getting any unmanned taco deliveries, but why does that have to be the case? There is no shortage of issues which are are just too insurmountable for this taco dream to become reality. Technological issues, however, aren’t one of them. The military already uses unmanned drones for all sorts of purposes that are much more complex than taco delivery. The Predator drone, for example, has been used throughout the world for surveillance, reconnaissance missions, border control and even scientific research. Drone making has even become a hobby among some aircraft enthusiasts, who make scale replicas of real drones, sometimes complete with cameras and surveillance equipment of their own.
Incredible technology for drones certainly already exists. Were the idea legally supported, drones could be used to deliver tacos (or other supplies) very soon in the future. The legitimate concerns, however, are largely privacy and safety based. Small drones can easily pass unseen, and large drones can fly high enough to go undetected. If privately owned drones were used commercially, it would be hard to regulate and track all of them. Especially as technology continues to raise concerns about personal privacy, letting drones with potentially advanced monitoring equipment take to the skies is a risky plan at best.
Don’t get your hopes up about robot taco delivery (or burger or pizza delivery, for that matter) any time soon. While the technology for food delivery and more already exists in some capacity, it’s not practical to let just anyone take to the skies with sneaky drones. There are still many questions to be answered before people can make full use of current robotics technology. Similar to robots being used in war, the ethical and practical issues involved with the technology currently outweigh the potential benefits of these robot abilities.