On a sunny Monday morning, over the open fields of Baylands Park in Sunnyvale, California, an unmanned aerial vehicle was turning heads -- and it came with a cargo of carne asada.
World, meet the Burrito Bomber.
The Bomber is the beans and rice-filled brainchild of two engineers at popular reviews and recommendations website, Yelp.
Their ultimate goal is to send the Burrito Bomber into the wild, blue yonder, wait for a customer to place an order through a mobile app, then have the tortilla-toting plane do a fly-by delivery based on GPS coordinates.
"You have a little parachute that kind of hides up here [under the plane]," said Yoni De Beule, one of the plane's designers, "and when the burrito releases, the parachute gets pulled out and allows for the burrito to drop to the ground a little more safely."
The bomber's engineers used a 3-D printer to create their own custom-made parts to allow for burrito storage and deployment, and added a fully remote controlled camera and transmitter to stream live video back down to the ground during flight.
"The plane can totally fly itself," says former Yelp engineer John Boiles, "But these are nice to have as a backup."
That's right. The Burrito Bomber is a drone.
Although it currently has to be launched by hand -- and Boiles briefly controls the drone as it ascends -- once the plane hits altitude and a flight plan is in place, the Burrito Bomber operates on its own.
Step one for takeoff includes Boiles and De Beule running through a checklist to ensure everything is operating properly. It's like their version of mission control, just down the road from the Mission District, where Yelp's headquarters are located in San Francisco.
Step two is a little less technical. Boiles grabs a few sprigs of grass and flips them into the air to see which way the breeze is blowing, sort of like nearby Stanford University attendee Tiger Woods sizing up his approach to the 18th green.
Step three, flight. On the count of three, Boiles fires up the propeller and De Beule tosses the bomber into the air. After a brief wobble, the Burrito Bomber is soaring skyward and preparing to deploy its tasty payload.
The idea of airborne munchies isn't entirely new. The Tacocopter turned out to be a hoax. And Domino's "DomiCopter" is a recent YouTube sensation, showing a high-flying pizza delivery near London.
The Burrito Bomber was dreamed up during a Yelp hackathon -- a two-day event held every quarter where engineers tap into their creative side. Yelp provides resources such as 3-D printers, tons of tools and lots of space -- a commodity in dense San Francisco -- to keep their workers inspired.
Boiles and De Beule's first hackathon project was a weather balloon they hoped would result in the first ever Yelp "check-in" from space. However, the balloon flew a lot farther than expected and they later recovered it in the Nevada desert. After a few other high-flying hijinks, the idea for the Burrito Bomber took hold.
Along with other projects from fellow engineers, Boiles and De Beule dubbed their creative corner of Yelp headquarters Darwin Aerospace -- named after CEO Jeremy Stoppelman's dog, Darwin, who is frequently found wandering Yelp's offices.
Sadly, anyone hoping for an aerial munchies fix will have to keep hoping for a while. The Burrito Bomber is currently just a prototype.
Current Federal Aviation Administration regulations prohibit commercial use of unmanned aircraft, but that could change.
"Pending regulations from the FAA in 2015, we'll be able to drop a burrito to a neighborhood near you," says Boiles.
Until then, parachuting pico de gallo will have to wait.
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