Chipotle to test burrito delivery by drone with Project Wing at Virginia Tech

Alphabet’s innovation lab X has a drone-focused team called Project Wing which has just announced a plan to commence aerial burrito delivery, in partnership with Chipotle, on the campus of Virgina Tech next week.

Project Wing’s mission it to make fully autonomous, or self-flying drones, that can deliver anything to anyone. But the X team is focused, for now, on delivering small packages in the U.S. and elsewhere.

It made a first run in 2014 in Queensland, Australia, delivering a first aid kit, candy bars, dog treats and water to farmers.

The burrito delivery that will begin next week is not open to the public, and is just a test of the service.

Virginia Tech is home to a U.S. Federal Aviation Administration test site, which is run by the Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership.

The MAAP is authorized to conduct projects using unmanned aerial systems at Virginia Tech with the express purpose of researching and gathering data that it will share with federal authorities. The data will help inform regulations governing drone usage for commercial and other purposes in U.S. airspace.

A spokesperson for Alphabet’s Project Wing wrote in an email to TechCrunch:

“We’re increasingly optimistic about the potential for UAS to open up entirely new approaches to the transportation of and delivery of goods — including options that are cheaper, faster, less wasteful and more environmentally sensitive than what’s possible today with ground transportation.”

Over the course of the burrito-delivery tests, Wing’s aircraft will fly autonomously over hundreds of meters of open ground on a closed testing site, navigating from a loading area to a delivery area. Students and employees will be invited to participate in the tests, ordering from a kiosk and waiting in a designated area for their food.

Chipotle will have a food truck on site where it will prepare the orders.

The Wing drones (unmanned aerial systems) will hover above a designated delivery area and lower the burritos in their packaging to the ground.

The tests are expected to generate data on “navigational accuracy and vehicle performance,” to be provided to the FAA, according to a press statement from Virginia Tech.

Chipotle executives were not immediately available to comment. The company is the latest among a handful of food and grocery businesses to begin testing drone delivery in partnership with tech firms. Domino’s and 7-11 have also conducted food delivery tests in New Zealand and Reno, Nevada, in partnership with the drone tech startup Flirtey.


Updates: This post was edited to clarify that Project Wing is part of Alphabet’s X innovation lab.