Google has announced the successful testing of Project Wing, an experimental “unmanned aerial vehicle,” a.k.a. a drone. The project has been developed over the last two years under the auspices of the Google X team, with the company trying to work out if delivery-by-drone is feasible to pursue as a service.
Google has stated of the project, “Self-flying vehicles could open up entirely new approaches to moving goods – including options that are cheaper, faster, less wasteful and more environmentally sensitive than what’s possible today.” Project Wing has been led to this point by MIT’s Nick Roy, who has been on a two-year sabbatical with the Google team and who was tasked with determining the feasibility of drone delivery. Now that he and Google X lab director Astro Teller have decided that, yes, it is worth pursuing, he will be replaced by drone expert Dave Vos, who will work to turn the project into a user-friendly service.
The Project Wing tests took place in Australia in mid-August as it’s prohibitive to test the project in the U.S. due to laws relating to drones in U.S. airspace. Over 30 missions were flown, delivering small parcels of dog food and medicine to a ground team at a farm in Queensland. The Project Wing drones are powered by two rotors on each wing and take off and land tail down — a tail sitter as Google calls it — obviating the need for an airstrip. The drones can hover mid-air, and deliver their payloads via a winch and tether mechanism that slows before landing to gently deposit the package. A sensitive bundle of electronics at the end of the tether, known as the “egg,” registers the touch down and disengages the tether from the package.
Of course, Google doesn’t invest all that money just for the fun of it. The company naturally sees many applications for the service. As teller told The Atlantic, “What excited us from the beginning was that if the right thing could find anybody just in the moment that they need it, the world might be radically better place.” While the final product is still years from service, one of the main troubles for the company now is those pesky drone-limiting laws, so they will soon have to join Amazon in petitioning the Federal Aviation Administration to allow exemptions for civilian unmanned aerial vehicles.
Screengrabs via Google on YouTube