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Beer Delivery By Drone Stopped By FAA

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A Minnesota brewery's airborne solution to the preventable yet apparently prevalent problem of running out of beer while ice fishing has been shot down by the FAA. Lakemaid Brewery's clever use of a six-rotor drone to whisk the frosty brews to their icebound customers runs afoul of the agency's current ban on the commercial use of unmanned aircraft and it didn't take long for the operation to be grounded. “We were a little surprised at the FAA interest in this since we thought we were operating under the 400-foot limit,” Lakemaid owner Jack Supple told NPR. FAA rules allow the recreational use of remote control aircraft by hobbyists below 400 feet but the beer runs are a commercial operation and therefore illegal. 

The service had some logistical issues, too. The drone being used couldn't handle a full case of beer but the service was gaining some notice when local FAA inspectors got wind of it via the well-timed marketing video. The system might actually have been a reasonable real-world test of drone delivery, given the remote and sparsely populated site and the relatively uniform height of the ice fishing shacks. To order a case of Lakemaid, customers copied the precise GPS coordinates of the spot they picked for the drone to land and phoned those into a store on shore. The store clerk programmed the latitude and longitude of the landing spot into the drone's onboard GPS and let the technology take over. Supple said the drone would have been busy on Super Bowl weekend. “The fishermen are going to sit there from Friday 5 p.m. all the way through Sunday," he said. "That’s a long time to be out there on a frozen lake.” Disappointed customers and supporters of the brewery launched a White House petition drive but after an initial flurry of online signatures the effort has stalled about 99,000 names short of the 100,000 minimum required for presidential review.

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