Google reveals its delivery drone ambitions with ‘Project Wing’


Project Wing in action. (Courtesy of Google)

Google on Thursday announced that it has been testing a small fleet of drones in the Australian outback, looking into ways to use self-flying robots to deliver goods. The drones, in development by Google's "moonshot" laboratory Google X, is called Project Wing. The company has been looking into developing a delivery service for two years but only began tests of the self-flying vehicles in mid-August.

The drones fly between a range of approximately 130-195 feet -- far above houses and the standard tree line, the company said. So far, the company says that it's run more than 30 successful delivery flights, carrying items such as a first aid kit, water bottle and cattle vaccine to Australian farmers. One flight, the company said, was about 1 km (.62 miles) away.

"We're now back in California reviewing what we've learned from the tests and preparing our next set of adventures," the company said in a press statement. Google expects it will take years to develop a full service to deliver goods, but it said in press materials that the final drones will fly programmed routes and have software that can deal with unscheduled obstacles such as a strong gust of wind.

The company said that it sees a lot of potential in drones that can deliver goods quickly, and with little intervention from humans.

“When you can get something near-instantly, it changes how you think about it,” Google said in press materials. “Think of the mom stuck at home with two sick kids, the hiker who’s met a poisonous snake, or the farmer out in the field with a sick animal. It could also open up new models for sharing goods rather than owning them – who needs a power drill for more than eight minutes a year?”

Google unveiled its drone delivery prototype, "Project Wing," by conducting a dog-food-drop field test in Queensland, Australia. (Google)

Google, of course, is not the only company to study how drone use could change the future of its business. Most notably, Amazon chief executive Jeffrey P.  Bezos, who owns The Washington Post, unveiled his company's secret drone project last December in an episode of 60 Minutes. Facebook has also revealed plans to work with drones to help provide Internet service to rural areas that may not have the infrastructure for fast connections. Even Disney has looked into drone use, filing a patent last week that showed plans for massive drone-controlled puppets-- though there's not any indication that we'll see those in parks any time soon.

Any company looking into drones does face a major hurdle in the United States, however. The Federal Aviation Administration is still working on rules for commercial drone use. According to a report from my Post colleague Craig Whitlock, the agency is expected to miss its Sept. 2015 deadline to lay down those rules due to "technical and regulatory obstacles."

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Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.
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