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Monique Keiran: One day, beer could just drop out of the sky

Just imagine. You’ve won Lotto 6/49 and are keeping your grandmother’s bit of property in the family.
Just imagine. You’ve won Lotto 6/49 and are keeping your grandmother’s bit of property in the family.

But what’s really amazing in this new, fantastical life of yours is the drone that delivers drinks to you on your terrace in Tuscany, picks up your mail and delivers your meals from that quaint little place run by Guido’s nonna just off the town square. Oh, and it keeps an eye on your dog and wayward teenaged kids, too.

OK, so that’s all fantasy.

But a group of fisherfolk in the middle of a frozen lake in the middle of frozen Minnesota got to experience a brief, tantalizing taste of the fantasy this winter. Lakemaid Beer, a craft brewer based in Stevens Point, Wis., used a drone to fly a 12-pack of lager to GPS co-ordinates provided by anglers huddled in a shack on Minnesota’s Lake Mille Lacs.

And last August, people attending a music festival in South Africa got to skip the line in the beer tent and the ice in central Minnesota to have their drinks drone-delivered onto their heads. The unmanned aircraft hovered 15 metres above pre-programmed co-ordinates, and parachuted beverages to customers.

Look up, Rusty. Look way up. It’s Mommy’s manna falling from heaven.

A chain of sushi restaurants in Britain tested a drone-waiter last year, but the human servers needn’t worry about their jobs just yet. The four-propeller platter apparently is more likely to dump one’s food in one’s lap or onto one’s shoes than provide excellent service at these early stages. The entertainment value of the experience might be worth the drycleaning.

Those are bite-sized servings compared to plans by Domino’s Pizza down the Finchley Road. The company’s U.K. office is looking into the feasibility of using drones for pizza delivery. The prototype DomiCopter would travel faster than a London taxi in rush hour, and would whizz over small buildings in a single buzz to bring customers two deluxe pies — still hot.

In December, Amazon promised to start delivering books by air within five years, while German company Deutsche Post DHL provided a one-day delivery demonstration of its Paketkopter (Packet-copter). Flower-delivery companies in Detroit are also exploring delivery-by-drone options.

The machines have other, less-mundane uses, too. Police used a drone to find an injured man who wandered away from a highway accident near St. Denis, Sask., last May. Rescue workers used small, unmanned aircraft to survey damage and locate victims amid the rubble left by typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines.

The machines are also being used to track wildlife poachers and save endangered rhinos in Africa.

It’s only a matter of time before they come to a wilderness area near you to count caribou or grizzly bears or to locate and assess pipeline leaks.

Drones, it seems, are the way of a fantasy future that is quickly becoming reality. The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration announced in December that it is starting to test commercial use of drones at sites in six states. The tests are part of an effort to develop safety and operational rules for use of drones by the end of next year. Transport Canada is also examining potential safety issues around commercial and private use of drones.

Some people, however, are less welcoming of the technology. Some states have banned or propose to ban their use, in an attempt to stop high-tech peeping Toms from peering through sixth-floor bedroom windows. It is one thing to use drones to hover over ski hills at Sochi to record Olympic races; it is something else altogether to use them to hover over your neighbour’s/boss’s/love interest’s backyard to catch the weekend barbecue. Or whatever.

In Canada, our own privacy is only modestly protected by the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act. Use of camera-toting unmanned aircraft to spy on neighbours, stalk exes or take pictures of lottery-winning terrace-loungers from 100 metres up is, to date, flying under the radar.

With my lottery luck, I needn’t worry.

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