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FAA puts microbrewery's drone beer delivery project on ice

FAA puts microbrewery's drone beer delivery project on ice

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Beer delivery by drone
Beer delivery by drone

A nearly unbelievable video of a drone that delivers 12-packs of beer to ice fishers on a frozen lake turns out to be too good to be true. Beermaker Lakemaid created the video as a riff on Amazon's announcement on 60 Minutes last month, where the company showed a theoretical vision of a service that delivers small packages by air, autonomously. But where Amazon's vision of the future is just that — a vision — Lakemaid was well into the process of creating such a service for local beer delivery, though those plans have been put on ice by the Federal Aviation Administration.

"They think it's a great idea."

"They think it's a great idea, though they're telling me to stop," Lakemaid president Jack Supple told The Verge, adding that the FAA considers the project commercial and therefore off limits until those policies are reviewed and potentially revised next year.

Supple says the Amazon service was indeed the spark for the idea, which Lakemaid had planned to test out at Minnesota's Twin Pines Resort, situated on the western shore of Mille Lacs lake. The idea was to let those who were ice fishing put in orders without having to make their way back onto land.

"You know that people sitting in houses, just for the novelty of it, would order it," Supple says. "A frozen lake is the perfect venue."

But the reality of delivering beers by drone is not a simple operation. In the video you see a 12-pack take to the skies under the clutches of a six-propeller drone, though in reality it wasn't able to carry a full load. "It did deliver the box with something in it," Supple says. "[But] we had to keep taking bottles out to get it off the ground." An eight-propeller drone that's capable of lifting nearly 16 pounds would make short work of it though, and was going to be the delivery vehicle of choice for a real version of the service.

Human control still required

Another wrinkle: the video depicts the drone taking off and arriving to GPS coordinates seemingly on its own volition, something Supple also chalks up to video magic. The drone was actually being piloted by a human with a full visual of what was going on, though Supple believes the technical limitations of programming in the locations would be simple given how low ice fishing buildings are, and how flat the frozen lake is.

Lakemaid's video is not the first airborne alcohol delivery project to be shown off, nor is it likely to be the last. Earlier this month champagne vendor Plus de Bulles showed a video of champagne being sent to a bar near the top of the Verbier resort in Switzerland, though it required the recipient to take it off the drone with a pair of pliers. During an earnings call last month, FedEx's chief executive also noted that its current drone delivery research was currently capable of carrying "about" four cans of beer, with an operational time of roughly eight minutes.

Despite running up against the legal roadblock, and some rather obvious implications of running into other legal trouble complying with drinking age requirements, Supple says he's not giving up hope on the service, nor is the FAA. "They've told me ‘you'll be ready.'"