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August 30, 2014

Beer-delivering drone tested with ice anglers

When Amazon announced on “60 Minutes” last month that the company was testing package-delivering drones, it left some people shaking their heads.

What will they think of next – beer-delivering drones?

Yep.

Makers of the Stevens Point, Wisconsin, brew Lakemaid Beer recently demonstrated the new technology on Lake Waconia southwest of the Twin Cities, as they try to heat up some publicity for their new winter lager. As Lakemaid President Jack Supple sees it, frozen lakes – free of power lines, buildings and trees – are the perfect place to test low-flying drones.

The concept: Thirsty anglers call in orders with their specific GPS coordinates. A resort or tavern clerk on shore takes the order and ships it off via the buzzing aerial robot, which arrives at its ice-house destination and gently sets a 12-pack of bottles on the frozen lake before whizzing back.

Check out this video of the demonstration:

To be clear, Lakemaid is just testing the idea. The Federal Aviation Administration does not yet allow commercial use of delivery drones. Congress has given the FAA a September 2015 deadline to propose new rules that would govern how commercial drones could share airspace with planes.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos acknowledged there are a number of issues to be worked out, but delivery drones could be a part of U.S. commerce within the next four to five years, he said.

Out on the frozen lakes of Minnesota, there are a few other things to work out. Regulators would have to approve beer-by-bot buys. Buyer IDs would have to be checked somehow. Supple also says the six-blade drones he tested on Waconia can only carry a 12-pack about half a mile. To go several miles it would take a bigger drone, Supple said, but he plans to test it on Mille Lacs soon. Also, the video shows a pilot-operated drone, rather than one fed GPS coordinates.

“This was a demo. It’s a long way off,” Supple told BringMeTheNews. “But we have a dream.”