Ladies and gentlemen, we have taco liftoff!
The world's first Tacocopter made an historic flight of about five feet this weekend, marking perhaps the first time ever that a taco was flown through the air via remote control counter-rotor helicopter. The Tacocopter prototype was constructed by an early-stage web startup of the same name, whose brilliant idea to deliver tacos ordered via smartphone using a fleet of drone helicopters became an Internet sensation earlier this year, winning the attention of everyone from Aziz Ansari to Stephen Colbert.
Flying in the face of reports that Tacocopter was a hoax, the Tacocopter team had a raucous launch party (Get it? Launch party???) in Hong Kong to celebrate its prototype taco-delivery drone's test flight. Here is some amateur video of the abbreviated flight, along with a look at Tacocopter's latest innovation, a high-velocity sour cream cannon for rapid-fire taco preparation:
And here is a higher-definition close-up photo of the Tacocopter, with co-founder Star Simpson (left) loading the first taco-in-flight -- the Laika of tacos, if you will:
Now, I know what you're thinking: The Tacocopter barely flew for three seconds! How is this drone supposed to travel miles and miles with my delicious taco meal if it can barely cross a room?
Well, the flight was more symbolic than anything, proof to the doubters that a small drone copter could indeed be rigged to handle the weight of a taco and the mission of taco delivery. As Simpson told HuffPost in March, Tacocopter is more of a concept than a concrete startup at this point, more a conversation starter about the future of delivery services than a realistic plan.
(Frankly, if we're getting pessimistic about Tacocopter's maiden flight, I'm more concerned with the taco itself: I like my tacos substantially -- substantially! -- larger than the one shown in the video. We want a tacocopter, not a taquitocopter).
So, no, Tacocopter isn't quite ready to scale up into a true company that mass delivers Mexican food via drone. It still has to learn to deal with an intimidating set of technical issues -- GPS mastery, mass production of drones, wind, heavy rain, birds, building ledges, telephone wires, thieves etc. -- before you can even think about actually receiving your taco via aerial flavor strike.
Yet Tacocopter did see one of its most significant obstacles vanish overnight, with the assistance of the U.S. government, surprisingly enough.
As Colbert lamented on "The Colbert Report", Tacocopter and companies like it were being blocked by American aviation regulations, which restricted companies from commercial use of drones (like for food delivery).
The FAA recently announced, however, that within the next three years it will open up drone use to commercial entities. The initial raft of private companies who have been granted permission to use drones in the U.S. has been published. The list, which you can see here, mostly consists of defense contractors -- Raytheon, General Atomics, etc. Simpson told me in an email from China that the company "has pursued getting a COA or SpaceX-style FAA exemption for flying taco-carrying drones" but added that she hasn't heard back on the status of Tacocopter's application.
In our emails, Simpson seemed generally upbeat about the future of Tacocopter. The MIT grad is moving back to America in May to renew work on the aerial taco project, which has been given a second life of sorts thanks to media interest. Co-founded in mid 2011 by fellow MIT grad Scott Torborg and Harvard alum Dustin Boyer, the Tacocopter concept lay undiscovered, simply a mysterious website with a grand promise for drone delivery of tacos, for many months until the idea went viral in March.
Now, Simpson and her team need a little more help from the government to really get Tacocopter off the ground. If the legal chains were to be lifted, the Tacocopter masterminds could start to work on the heavy scientific and mathematical lifting necessary to program an unmanned aerial vehicle to fly someone a taco.
And so, U.S. government, we the taco-eating citizens of America leave you with this plea: Give Tacocopter permission to deliver us delicious airborne tacos right this instant. If you're going to allow shady "national security" contractors to fly overhead with their potentially invasive drones, the least you can do is make it up to us with some fresh, cheesy, airborne tacos in their wake.
For more photos of the Tacocopter launch party, check out the Hong Wrong blog here. And hope and pray that the government sees the light and allows this aerial taco vehicle to grace our (potentially delicious) skies.