Surprise! Google has been working on delivery drones for the past two years, although the project has, until now, been kept under wraps.
“Project Wing” comes from the Google X labs, as you were already expecting, since they’re always the ones to come up with such crazy moonshots.
Of course, by now, you must have heard that Amazon has been working on the same thing for a while too, especially since the company introduced the project a few months back, saying that it could take up to five years before the project becomes operational.
Google’s project, unlike Amazon’s, isn’t a square-shaped drone with six propellers and a spider-like grab on the package. Much like everything else designed by the world’s largest Internet giant, the delivery drone looks more like a small airplane, a bit bigger than a seagull, The Atlantic reports.
Also unlike Amazon’s drones, these won’t land in order to drop the package, because that’s not necessary. Instead, the plane’s belly opens up, sending a package to the ground. Worry not, for the delivered product isn’t free falling, as it stays connected to the drone by a thin line.
Before it hits the ground, the package slows down enough that the landing is smooth and undamaging to the contents. A small module on the end of the line detaches and gets dragged back into the drone, locking into place. The drone then flies back to its launch point.
Google may have been working on this project in order to deliver products in the US in the first phase, but the testing isn’t done there due to all the legal issues this would entail. However, the drones are getting their workout in Australia.
This is, apparently, the culmination of the first phase of Project Wing, a drone program Google has been secretly working on for the past two years.
The publication writes that along with the other robotics investments made by Google, including the purchase of Boston Dynamics, the drone project proves that Google wants to organize the entire world, not just its information.
The man leading the flying drone project is Nick Roy, an MIT roboticist who took a two-year sabbatical to take on this task. He had been clear from the start that he would not stay with Google past the two years, but in the meantime he had the task of figuring out if pursuing this idea was worth it or not and whether Google could create a real and reliable service.
Roy and Astro Teller, the director of Google X, believe the answer to be “yes.” While there’s yet no reliable system in place through which Google users can order via drones, there’s still time for that. In fact, that’s the second part of the company’s efforts.
Now that Roy is finishing his stay at Google, Dave Vos will be stepping in for him. He’s a 20-year veteran of automating flying machines whose company, Athena Technologies, created drone software. The project was sold to Rockwell in 2008.
There are about a dozen Googlers working on Project Wing, coming up with new designs, mechanisms and more.
As the program takes a new dimension, Google will start talking to legislators in the US about the rules on remotely piloted aircraft, entering the debate on the topic since this is, of course, the biggest issue at this point.
“It’s gonna take conversations with the public and with regulators. But so far in the conversations we’ve had over the last two years, and more intensely over the last couple months with regulators, I’m cautiously optimistic that everyone wants the same thing. Everyone wants the world to be a great place that’s safe and has the benefits of the technology with as little or no downsides as possible,” said Ron Medford, a former official at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, who will now lobby regulators on behalf of Google.
Back in April, Google bought Titan Aerospace, a maker of solar-powered drones, making everyone speculate on what the company could do with the new purpose. Well, now we know.