It sounds like a tech geek’s dream: What if you could stay holed up in your office, immersed in your code and your blogs and your e-cig nicotine haze, and still enjoy regular deliveries of your favorite fast food via an unmanned drone?
That was the promise of the TacoCopter, which was—what, exactly? A bogus website, it turns out, advertising a fake app that promised “flying robots deliver tacos to your location” through “easy ordering on your smartphone” (in San Francisco only, natch).
The fact that the delivery drone pictured on the site—a black arachnid-looking thing with eight whirling scythe-like blades—seems less like a happy harbinger of lunch and more like a machine intended to wreak a bloody end to a cadre of human resisters in some sort of Matrix sequel did not deter more than 68,000 Facebook fans from liking the site, nor a bevy of tech-bro reporters from salivating about the prospect of tacos dropping from the sky.
This was all back in the spring of 2012—and no, the Federal Aviation Administration still hasn’t approved the commercial use of drones (that’s not expected until 2015). Thus, it wasn’t long after the frenzy of anticipation began that Wired revealed it was all a hoax perpetuated by MIT grad Star Simpson, who had briefly garnered headlines back in 2007 for strapping a circuit board and green LEDs to her chest and getting herself arrested at Boston’s Logan Airport.
Regarding TacoCopter, Simpson told Wired, “I wouldn’t say it was ever considered a joke. Quadcopters are fascinating, and I’m taken with the idea that the possibilities for using them in non-flying death robot context,” adding that one of her motivations in creating the TacoCopter site was, “we basically only hear about quadrotos in scary contexts, and I think it does give that fear and emotional tension a safe and hilarious outlet.”
Well, “hilarious” (kinda) is one way to describe what may well be the first bona fide effort to turn the TacoCopter from Internet urban legend into some sort of reality—or it may still just be a joke. A new video from the TechCruch Disrupt conference in San Francisco shows forum moderator Anthony Ha asking the audience how many people remember the TacoCopter. Only a smattering raise their hands (these are tech people, after all, for whom the iPhone 4 might as well be the Dead Sea Scrolls—last year is like last century). Ha seems a bit disappointed—the great stunt here may just fall flat—but gamely presses on, though he doesn’t seem to be sure himself what to expect. “Are we getting video?” he asks, before being startled by the side of a quadcopter lurching into the frame, its little red light glaring like the eye of the Terminator.
The purported TacoCopter hovers, shakes, then a small trap door opens on the bottom and, rather inelegantly, out falls a foil-wrapped package (presumably a taco). This is a single-camera affair, so there’s no way to capture the reaction of the unsuspecting audience member who just found themselves with a cold taco on their head.
It’s hardly awe-inspiring stuff. Then again, few people who witnessed the Wright Brothers skip across the sands in North Carolina in what looks like a paper airplane with a propeller attached would have imagined the 747s that would follow less than a century later.
Of course, whether a nation of ever fatter people should even be dreaming of technologies that allow for even easier access to junk food with no physical activity required (or social contact, for that matter) is another debate entirely.