08/14/2013 01:41 pm ET Updated Aug 15, 2013

People Are Making Drones That Can Deliver Just About Anything (Even Beer!)

Every year on the second weekend in August, the Oppikoppi festival rules the tiny town of Northam in South Africa. The festival features hundreds of musicians in genres ranging from rock to jazz to dubstep. This year, for the first time ever, it also featured unmanned aerial vehicle, or drone, that delivered cold beers to concertgoers via a parachute and plastic cup.

This beer-delivery robot isn't alone in the drone service industry. UAVs have been tested as mechanisms to convey everything from dry cleaning to medicine.

Though it's often criticized for its military use of drones, the United States lags behind other countries in commercial and civilian drone use; the Federal Aviation Administration isn't set to deal with non-military drones until at least 2015.

People who use drones now must do so only for recreational purposes: Though some Americans skirt the law, U.S. civilians are technically not allowed use drones for "compensation or hire." (But even Rand Paul, the infamously anti-drone U.S. Senator, tweeted his support for Oppikkopi's beer drone.)

Meanwhile, less developed countries like the Dominican Republic are already hammering out the regulations necessary for civilian drone flight.

In the United States and elsewhere, here are some of the fun things civilian drones have delivered so far:


Far friendlier than its bomb-dropping cousins, Oppikoppi's drone "Manna" delivered free beer to concertgoers who called for it with a smartphone app.


The original delivery drone, Star Simpson's Tacocopter started as a proof of concept. A web page advertising taco delivery by drone gained publicity and was eventually dismissed as a "hoax," but Simpson insists she'll get the service up and running once the United States makes it legal.


Inspired by Star Simpson's Tacocopter, the minds behind California's Darwin Aerospace created a working "Burrito Bomber" and filmed it delivering its tasty payload. The company's website now documents the making of the delivery drone and encourages industrious viewers to build their own bombers.


In June, a Domino's franchise outside London delivered two large, piping-hot pepperoni pizzas via drone. According to NBC news, Domino's is apparently "serious" about delivering pies with drones in the future, but the company must first jump regulatory hurdles to ensure the delivery is civilian-safe.

Dry Cleaning

In July, Harout Vartanian, owner of the Philadelphia-based Manayunk Cleaners, tried out a new marketing gimmick: sending his customers' their dry cleaning using a drone. The venture brought the establishment much-needed attention, and Vartanian says he eventually plans to make all his deliveries drone-borne.


China's Incake bakery debuted drones that delivered cakes to the bakery's Shanghai customers earlier this year, but the bakery had to suspend the airborne service after Chinese police said the drones were a threat to public safety.


YO! Sushi has a high-tech reputation to maintain; the chain pioneered the practice of putting sushi on in-house conveyer belts, letting patrons pick out plates of what they liked best. Now the franchise is experimenting again: At YO! Sushi's London flagship, small quadcopters deliver rice bun "sushi burgers" to hungry diners.


Not all drone delivery schemes are frivolous or for foodies; Paola Santana and her co-founders at the Matternet plan on using drones to deliver medicine and supplies to infrastructure-poor parts of the world.


Drones are already hard at work in some parts of the U.S. spraying crops with pesticides. While such drone use is innovative in America, it's old news in Japan, where drones seed and spray farms on steep hillsides that are difficult to reach by tractor.