Home / April Fools Spoofs / Appalachian Trail Conservancy and Google Express Launch Air-Drop Airborne Drone Resupply Service on Appalachian Trail

Appalachian Trail Conservancy and Google Express Launch Air-Drop Airborne Drone Resupply Service on Appalachian Trail

Google Express Triple Crown Drone
Google Express Triple Crown Drone

Forget mail drops. In an effort to relieve trail town and post office congestion, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy and Google Express have launched a new resupply initiative using cargo drones called Air-Drops, so that thru-hikers can resupply on the Appalachian Trail without having to come into towns. The new Google Express service will deliver food and supplies via airborne cargo drones to hikers at any Appalachian Trail Shelter. The Air-Drop Resupply Service is being used by two dozen Appalachian Trail Thru-Hikers this year, with full roll out expected on the AT, as well as the Continental Divide Trail and Pacific Crest Trail next year.

“We’ve seen a huge increase in the number of hikers on the Appalachian Trail this year,” explains Ron Tipton, Executive Director of the ATC, “and trail towns along the route have expressed concern about being overrun with hikers and not having enough supplies on hand to support them. These towns depend on thru-hiker commerce, so we approached Google Labs to see if they could help relieve congestion in towns while helping small businesses hold on to the business that hikers provide.

“Thru-hikers come to trail towns in droves to pick up resupply packages at post offices or buy supplies in stores as they hike and stretch town resources to a breaking point” says David Voss, of the Google Labs “Project Wing” Research Team. “The new Google Express Air-Drop Service lets hikers buy goods from trail town stores and have them delivered on the trail, removing the need to come to town.”

Thru-hikers can order food from The Amish Cupbord in Buena Vista, Virgina in the Google Express Appalachian Trail Marketplace
Thru-hikers can order food from The Amish Cupboard in Buena Vista, Virginia in the Google Express Appalachian Trail Marketplace

Google set up online store fronts in a special Appalachian Trail marketplace for these small town stores, where hikers can select and schedule air-drops much like they did with post office mail drops, but without having to pack up resupply packages or mail them in advance. “It’s a huge benefit for our local town partners,” says Royce Gibson, the ATC Director of Development, “because they can drop-ship goods to hikers without ever having to handle the inventory and operate in a virtual 24 x 7 mode without needing to hire more staff. They weren’t hard to convince about signing up for the program and have been valuable partners in helping to define its development.”

When a hiker reaches a shelter, they send a text message to the Air-Drop service and a drone arrives within an hour with their resupply package. The Volkswagen-sized cargo containers used by the Air-Drop service are segmented into different compartments that can only be opened using a password sent to the hiker who ordered the goods, allowing multiple hikers to be resupplied on each trip.

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“One of our goals with the Air-Drop service was to make sure the Air-Drop service didn’t increase littering on the trail since hikers like to repackage the food they buy and leave behind unnecessary packaging weight,” says the ATC’s Director of Conservation, Laura Belleville.  “Working with Leave No Trace, Google Express built a special compartment into each drone cargo container code-named “The Dumpster” that can be used by hikers, including hikers who don’t use the service, to fly trash out from the trail.”

“Google Express is also working with the Pacific Crest Trail Association and the Continental Divide Trail Coalition on related trail projects, under the umbrella Triple Crown Drone Program, which includes the Google Express Air-Drop service trial on the Appalachian Trail,” said Google Drone Project Leader Voss “including trials involving water cache management, trail maintenance reconnaissance, fire suppression, and search and rescue.”

Pacific Crest Trail Water Cache
Pacific Crest Trail Water Cache

We’re fully supportive of these Drone Delivery projects, says FAA Administrator Michael Huerta, “because we think the earliest practical use of drone delivery systems will be in backcountry areas that are difficult to reach by conventional means.”

But will drone delivery systems, like Google Express’ Air-Drop Service intrude on the Wilderness Experience that Triple Crown hikers seek when they hike the Appalachian Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail, and the Continental Divide Trail? “Drone technologies are advancing as such a rapid rate that it’s hard to anticipate what impact they’ll have on wilderness areas,” says Dr Marion Jeffries, author of Leave No Trace in the Outdoors, “but we can’t hide our heads in the sand and pretend they don’t exist. Jets fly over our wilderness areas today and I expect drones will eventually too.”

April Fools!

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28 comments

  1. Good one! I especially like the inclusion of Amish merchants! Your timing was most appropriate (well, an hour early in NV).

    • That was accidental actually. They were the first company to come up in Buena Vista in Google search. I didn’t even realize the implications until you pointed it out to me!

  2. Appalachian Swede

    Even if the drone program was real there are a million things that could go wrong. You can’t get a signal at shelters to send a text message, the password doesn’t work, the drone crashes,etc.

  3. You almost had me!, good luck on your section hike!, hope to see you sometime soon on the lehigh valley , P.A. part of the A.T.

    Brian

  4. April 1st already?

  5. oh, Aprils fool’s day. I was just thinking about how the hikers were going to have to pack out all that packaging material, haha.

  6. Excellent! Wouldn’t that enhance the wilderness experience :-) I wonder how many hikers would get killed . . . I actually believed it, and was quite dismayed, until you wrote that the cargo drops would be the size of Volkswagens — that was way over the top. I started thinking about how they would have to clear-cut areas for landing zones . . .

  7. Forget yer food drops …. I’m waiting for a pack carrying drone ,,, ans another that pitches my tarp before I get to the intended campsite.

  8. Dang it! This would be so cool…..

  9. I have the google air drop service dangle a Fiji-water-filled platypus hose in front of me about every 20 minutes. Going hands-free is tough but manageable.

  10. Got me there. LOL. But this is actually a good idea that im sure will take off in the future. Just not Volkswagen sized…

  11. Well done! This was just ludicrous and disheartening enough to be true. It reminded me of the Hunger Games, with healing salve dropping in from the heavens. What’s next in our simulated wilderness experiences? Maybe you’ll be able to select your difficulty level on the AT, with hungry lions or trail magic popping up along the way, based on a selection of hard or easy, respectively.

  12. Ha ha, Philip. But the idea of the ATC flying resupply drones had me checking the date even before I got beyond your headline. Cheers!

  13. Personally in a hundred years, maybe even 50, if they can get vastly improved solar power or power akin to the Back to the Future #2 movie (using garbage to generate power), if they could have a drone that is 100% quiet, and generates an outer shell projected-image that camouflages itself to be 100% invisible (you’ve seen those military experiments doing the invisibility stuff with buildings), then one could have drones that nobody hears and nobody sees. I wonder then if they’ll be allowed in the backcountry (we’re talking 50-100 years from now). I can imagine groups wanting these silent, invisible drones to take over the job of pack animals then which would for some be a bummer to see replaced. I could see both still being allowed, one for historical reasons, one for “new” environmental reasons.

    • I think we’ll see bike messengers (pack mules) sooner on the PCT if the mountain bike lobby gets their way, but I wouldn’t count drones out. People pay big bucks to hike Everest. I’m sure there will be a market for drones, too.

  14. Volkswagen-sized cargo container crashes and leaves no trace…

    …of the backpacker it landed on!

  15. It’s not a bad idea, honestly. I bet a drone could carry a few lbs of rice….

  16. Great idea! I’m leaving in a few days for my thru-hike of the AT. This will also aid in the wear and tear of the trails leading in and out of the trail towns.

  17. All the way through I kept thinking “I hope this was posted on April 1st, I hope this was posted on April 1st, I hope this was posted on April 1st.” Excellent!

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