Google now testing drones
When Jeff Bezos appeared on "60 Minutes" last December to discuss Amazon’s intentions to deliver packages via flying drones, some felt it was just a publicity stunt to boost holiday sales. Last week, the technology’s potential was given more credence with Google’s revelation of its own drone delivery tests in the Australian outback.
The test project in its third year, called Project Wing, was disclosed through a press release as well as a YouTube video that featured a delivery of dog treats to an Australian farmer.
Google’s "self-flying vehicles" — a hybrid plane/helicopter — take off vertically and hand off deliveries through a fishing-like line that lowers the item to customers from about 150 feet above the ground. With the first delivery made in mid-August, other items air-dropped included a first aid kit, candy bars and water.
"Over the course of the week, the team ran more than 30 successful delivery flights. We are now back in California reviewing what we’ve learned," GoogleX, its long-term projects division best known for its self-driving car project, said in a release.
Google admitted drone deliveries remain "years away" and said its next push would be to reduce noise and improve navigation for more precise delivery as well as to avoid people, power lines and other items for safety reasons. Drones have yet to be tested in populated areas.
Another major hurdle cited in news articles is that fact that commercial use of drones is not currently allowed in the U.S. The FAA is in the course of coming up with safety rules for the industry.
Public acceptance and whether drone drop-offs will ever be cost viable are also being questioned.
On the positive side, Google’s participation builds on experiments by numerous other industries. The Wall Street Journal noted that the FAA has fielded 31 requests to fly drones commercially from companies involved in agriculture, pipeline inspection, aerial surveying and movie production.
The New York Times estimated that the first commercial applications would likely be "asset monitoring" or tasks such as crop dusting and searching for breaks in railroad tracks and oil pipelines. Delivery of urgent packages in disaster zones was also noted as a likely use.
But Google — with its cash, lobbying might and tests — along with Amazon, may be able to steer the discussion toward regular parcel delivery with both regulators and the public.
"The way you convince regulators is with data that proves this is safe," Mike Toscano, president of the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems Integration, a trade group, told the Journal. "Real testing also helps identify what needs to be changed and Google is already doing this."
- GoogleX takes to the skies with secret drone project – USA Today
- Drone Developers Consider Obstacles That Cannot Be Flown Around – The New York Times (tiered sub.)
- Google Drones Lift Industry Hopes – The Wall Street Journal (sub. required)
- Google Is Testing Delivery Drone System – The Wall Street Journal (sub. required)
- Google Admits Secretly Testing a Drone Delivery System – Mashable
- Google’s remote drone deliveries point to fast-track niche – Financial Times (tiered sub.)
- Amazon Preps For Retail Drone Wars – RetailWire
Does Google’s test project improve the prospects for flying commercial drone deliveries? Has your overall outlook for drone delivery changed at all since Amazon first announced its tests?