BLACKSBURG — The future of food delivery arrived at Virginia Tech this week, as Google began its much-anticipated — and secretive — experiment to lower Chipotle burritos from drones to a select group of university students.
A drone was spotted buzzing overhead just before 1 p.m. Monday. It descended to about 10 feet, hovered over a grass patch and then lowered a large white package to the ground on a string. The drone then flew away, leaving the package and string on the ground.
A woman with a clipboard walked over somewhat unceremoniously, cut the string and carried the package back to a staging area where test subjects watched from behind a safety net.
The process was repeated about 10 times in a 30-minute span on Monday. Sometimes, multiple orders were brought in at the same time on two separate drones flying near each other.
The meals were only carried about a tenth of a mile, maintaining the line-of-sight flights that the Federal Aviation Administration prefers.
Google said last week that the drones would be flown autonomously, with pilots standing by just in case. Virginia Tech, which was selected as a designated drone test site by the FAA in 2013, provided safety oversight.
The experiments were conducted by the Project Wing team devoted to the company’s drone ambitions. Project Wing is part of Alphabet, Google’s parent company.
Project Wing spokeswoman Jacquelyn Miller said last week that the experiments would be closed to the public and media. But the flights were clearly visible from a nearby vantage point.
Miller declined to comment on the video Tuesday, saying the company plans to release more information as the experiment continues.
None of the drones spotted by The Roanoke Times were sporting Google logos, but they were the same model the company has used in previous promotional materials. Even the delivery boxes matched Project Wing’s previous models.
The Roanoke Times couldn’t confirm the content of the packages being lowered to the ground, but there was a food truck parked nearby — like Miller said last week there would be.