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.
Google has transformed <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/03/03/google-self-driving-car-demo_n_831175.html" target="_hplink">ordinary Toyota Priuses</a> into hands-free vehicles, each equipped with a rotating camera, sensors and more. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/03/03/google-self-driving-car-demo_n_831175.html" target="_hplink">According to the AP</a>, the four-wheeled fleet "can steer, stop and start without a human driver." These so-called self-driving cars handle themselves so well that one has even been used to take a blind man for a joy ride (<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/29/google-self-driving-car-blind-man-taco-bell_n_1387930.html" target="_hplink">see video above</a>).
With its "Transition" car, Terrafugia proves that <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/06/30/terrafugia-transition-fly_n_630578.html#s108243" target="_hplink">the future is finally here</a>. The operator of this amazing vehicle can drive it <em>and</em> fly it. The Transition has already been approved by the Federal Aviation Administration to fly in the skies and <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/07/09/terrafugia-transition-flying-car_n_893402.html#s305568" target="_hplink">by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to drive on roads</a>. If you happen to have a driver's license, pilot license, and <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/03/terrafugia-transition-test-flight_n_1399267.html" target="_hplink">$279,000</a>, this car might be the one for you. The Transition was slated for consumer release in late 2011, but that date has been delayed and no new date has been announced.
If you happen to be a fan of "The Jetsons," you're going to love this. For about $125,000, you can get your hands on your very own M200G Hover-Car, thanks to Moller International, <a href="http://gizmodo.com/280546/moller-m200g-hover+car-in-production-and-selling-for-125k" target="_hplink">reported Gizmodo way back in 2007</a>. While the M200G is pretty cool to look at (even if the photo is a little retro), a sleek flying car called the <a href="http://moller.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=50&Itemid=58" target="_hplink">M400 Skycar</a> may be the company's next project (though so far there's been no word on how it's coming along.)
This futuristic-looking "supercar," the <a href="http://www.tramontanagroup.com/car/car.php" target="_hplink">Tramontana R</a>, is a product of European auto-maker <a href="http://www.tramontanagroup.com/adtramontana/adtramontana.php" target="_hplink">a.d. Tramontana</a> and <a href="http://www.tramontanagroup.com/adtramontana/adtramontana.php" target="_hplink">features</a> a carbon fiber body, a max speed of more than 200 mph, and a V12 engine that produces a maximum horsepower of 720. Unfortunately, all of these awesome specs (and the fact that it looks almost as cool as the Batmobile) have landed the car with a ridiculous price tag. <a href="http://www.forbes.com/2009/04/24/car-cool-model-lifestyle-vehicles-car-cool_slide_10.html?thisSpeed=undefined" target="_hplink">According to Forbes</a>, it costs upwards of $511,126, and only 12 are released each year.
BMW's <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/26/bmw-self-driving-car_n_1234362.html" target="_hplink">ConnectedDrive Connect system</a> can be installed in current BMW models and allows the car to drive itself. While at the moment the system operates only on pre-mapped roads, further developments will allow the car to adapt and drive on any street.
Audi's 2012 "super-luxury" vehicle is hailed as a standout in its class. <a href="http://usnews.rankingsandreviews.com/cars-trucks/Audi_A8/" target="_hplink">Writes U.S. News</a>, <blockquote>Test drivers say the A8's cabin is exceptionally crafted, and the standard MMI infotainment system now features Google Earth views on its navigation screen and available Wi-Fi connectivity, thanks to a SIM card in the A8's dash. Reviewers like the design and features inside the A8, but note that it packs less cargo space than many competing luxury sedans. Passenger space, on the other hand is ample. </blockquote> If it's anything like its predecessor, the Audi A7, which our own Jason Gilbert called a "<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/07/16/2012-audi-a7-features_n_900788.html#s310151&title=Head_Up_Windshield" target="_hplink">tech-lover's dream</a>," the A8 is sure to win over drivers who have $75,704 to $130,192 laying around.
In partnership with the Safe Road Trains for the Environment (SARTRE) program, Volvo is testing the "<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/01/22/sartre-road-train-platoon-car_n_811632.html#s227279" target="_hplink">road train</a>" system, in which a lead vehicle pilots a column of cars down highways. The head car controls the others via Wi-Fi, allowing the drivers to sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride. <a href="http://www.autoblog.com/2012/01/24/sartre-autonomous-road-train-enters-final-phase-with-trio-of-vol/" target="_hplink">According to Autoblog</a>, the system is entering its final phase of testing and should be able to accomodate six vehicles by the year's end. No firm release date has been set.
Similar to the Terrafugia Transition, the PAL-V (or Personal Air and Land Vehicle) was <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/02/flying-car-unveiled-in-ho_n_1397882.html?1333399106" target="_hplink">developed in Holland </a> and can reach speeds of up to 110 mph. Watch the video above to learn more!
Pretty soon there will be a <em>hybrid</em> flying car on the market, too. While this Burt Rutan model has yet to be approved for regular use on the road, it is fueled by both electric motors and gasoline engines, so, whether driving or flying, you're traveling a little greener than the rest. [Via <a href="http://www.wired.com/autopia/2011/07/burt-rutan-designs-hybrid-flying-car/" target="_hplink">Wired</a>]
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/19/new-delorean-electric-version_n_1019222.html" target="_hplink">In October of last year</a>, the DeLorean Motor Company, makers behind the iconic DMC-12, used as the time machine in <em>Back to the Future</em>, announced an all-electric model for, well, the future. <a href="http://delorean.com/content/news/electric/dmcevpr.pdf" target="_hplink">According to a press release</a>, the company paired up with Epic Electric Vehicles to bring this well-known car back to life and plans to market it in the States in 2013.
Mitsubishi's i-MiEV is a cleaner alternative to city driving. <a href="http://i.mitsubishicars.com/miev/features" target="_hplink">According to Mitsubishi's website</a>, the i-MiEV features a lithium-ion battery system along with its motor and other engine components, a seating capacity of four, and a max speed of about 80 miles per hour. This super-green vehicle <a href="http://www.mitsubishi-motors.com/special/ev/4innovations/index.html" target="_hplink">recently clinched the top spot</a> on the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy's (ACEEE) 14th annual Greenest Cars List for 2012.