The FAA Shuts Down Beer-Delivery Drone

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Ice fishermen on Lake Waconia in Minnesota were pleasantly surprised when a Wisconsin brewery, Lakemaid, flew a twelve-pack of their frothy suds over the icy wastes to their warm fishing cabins using a hefty, remote-controlled quadcopter. It was a match made in zero-degree weather: the brewery took orders and flew their drones out to the fishermen who, in turn, didn’t have to trudge to the shore for liquid refreshment. The FAA, however, didn’t find the arrangement so appealing.

According to FAA rules, you cannot fly a drone for commercial purposes or above 400 feet in the United States. Therefore a robot flying a sixer over to some thirsty pescatarians is right out. One phone call from the FAA shut down the entire operation and, in turn, set off an Internet firestorm. But the company, whose logo is a fulsome lake maiden with a slippery tail, will not be grounded for long.

“The model of UAV used for the video was a DJI F550,” said Lakemaid president Jack Supple. “There was a little wind that day so it was laboring to lift the twelve pack. We had to lighten its load by some bottles to safely fly it. We were about to order a larger drone when the FAA called. So we’re waiting to see where this goes. Regulations come out in 2015 and we’ll be ready.”

The company even began a petition on Whitehouse.gov to get their beer drones (BUAVs) back in the air and has definitely caused a social media ruckus on Twitter and Facebook. Their website still features a 2011 retail list but has been revamped to focus primarily on their flying robokegerator.

Savvy students of marketing will note that this move is an excellent PR stunt for the small Stevens Point, Wisconsin brewery, although there is some disappointment that the FAA spoiled the fun. Over Super Bowl Weekend the “fishermen [were] going to sit there from Friday 5 p.m. all the way through Sunday,” said Supple to the AP.

Want to try Lakemaid? Supple says you’ll have to wait (or order a sixer online). The drones probably won’t make it to the coasts just yet. “The only way to get it in New York and San Francisco would be to know a real nice relative traveling from the Upper Midwest, or to call a shipping retailer in one of those states.”

I asked Supple what was next for Lakemaid. Rockets perhaps? He balked at the question.

“We never even considered using rockets. Lakemaid Beer Frosty Winter Lager is far too good to risk on a violent rocket ride and crash landing on a frozen lake surface. The ability of the UAV to set the twelve pack gently and tenderly down in the snow next to the fish house make us fans of this form of delivery,” he said.