Although it’s been rumored in the past, Google finally acknowledged that it's been working on a drone-based delivery service program this week.
The program, called Project Wing, is the latest revelation from Google X, the technology company’s experimental research department responsible for Google’s self-driving car and Google Glass.
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After two years of research, the company conducted dozens of flight tests on its new unmanned aerial vehicle in a rural part of Queensland, Australia, according to a detailed report in The Atlantic.
The vehicle isn’t like most of the small-scale drones we’re familiar with, which typically operate like a helicopter with several rotors. Instead, it’s a plane-helicopter hybrid called a "tail sitter."
The aircraft takes off vertically before changing its orientation to fly forward. When making a delivery, the drone becomes vertical once again to hover in place before dropping its payload on a string, slowing just before it hits the ground several hundred feet below.
At the end of the Wing’s tether is a device Google calls the egg, which insures that the package is safely on the ground and detaches before beaming back up to the mothership.
Project Wing is being led by MIT roboticist Nick Roy. “Sergey [Brin] has been bugging me, asking, ‘What is it like? Is it actually a nice experience to get this?’ and I’m like, ‘Dude, I don’t know. I’m looking at the screen,’” Roy said about receiving a drone-delivered package.
After seeing a drone in action, delivering dog treats to another man on a cattle ranch Roy said the experience was “delightful.”
As with Google’s self-driving car, drone delivery for the masses doesn’t appear to be in our immediate future. Google says it doesn’t have a reliable order system in place. Even if it did, it still wouldn’t be allowed under regulations from the FAA.
That hasn’t dampened Google’s enthusiasm for the project. Teams are developing an order system, refining the egg delivery mechanism and soon, another team will likely be lobbying for regulatory changes that could allow customers to receive their products minutes after they order them.