Regulation of the Day 215: TacoCopter

Correction: According to Wired, TacoCopter turns out to have been a prank. It says a lot about the advancing state of technology that the concept was believable. So worry not, delivery drivers. Your jobs are safe. For now.

Whatever one’s feelings about unmanned attack drones, a group of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs have found a peaceful use for them that almost everyone can support: delivering food to hungry people.

It works like this: place an order from their taco shop using a smartphone with GPS. The restaurant cooks up your order, loads it into an unmanned drone, and the TacoCopter flies to your location and delivers it to you right where you stand.

It’s a pretty cool idea. But even though TacoCopter has been around for almost a year, they have yet to get off the ground – figuratively or literally. FAA regulations don’t allow unmanned drones to be used for commercial purposes. Maybe TacoCopter should re-charter as a non-profit?

TacoCopter co-founder Star Simpson told the Huffington Post, “Honestly I think it’s not totally unreasonable to regulate something as potentially dangerous as having flying robots slinging tacos over people’s heads … [O]n the other hand, it’s a little bit ironic that that’s the case in a country where you can be killed by drone with no judicial review.”

Non-FAA critics argue that TacoCopter-style automation would put delivery drivers out of work. If TacoCopter becomes a success, it almost certainly would eliminate some delivery jobs. But those critics haven’t proven that this would be a bad thing.

There was a time when about 90 percent of Americans were farmers. Automation has reduced that to about two percent today. Despite all those lost jobs, the main reason unemployment is over 8 percent isn’t new technology. It’s a recession. Something about anti-automation arguments doesn’t compute – they forget that economies are filled with change and dynamism. Technology marches on, yet most people still find work.

If a machine takes away a man’s job, that man is now free to pursue another opportunity. Remember, opportunity is not a zero-sum game. Economic prosperity requires creating more wealth with less labor. Reducing the amount of labor used on food delivery frees that labor for other, higher-valued uses.

The FAA should reconsider its ban-first-ask-questions-later approach. And latter-day Luddites need not fear for the deliveryman’s future.