СOn Thursday, Google unveiled its latest project: a product delivery service powered entirely by drone aircraft. Coming from the same Google X teams that developed the likes of self-driving cars and Google Glass, the drone program, currently dubbed Project Wing, received a feature-length reveal in The Atlantic.
The article's video showed a prototype drone dropping a package at an apparent height of dozens of feet, which was guided to the ground by a combination of a wire and an attached "egg" that slowed the drop to a near-halt just before reaching the ground and releasing a box. MIT roboticist Nick Roy received the lion's share of credit for putting the machine together during his two-year stint with Google X; he came to the project with experience in helping Navy drones navigate through zones that lacked GPS signals.
In particular, Roy pushed for Google to employ a hybrid design, combining fixed-wing and helicopter elements, so that it could take off vertically in tail-sitter configuration. Google did not confirm that it will settle on this design for any final model. However, the wired "egg-drop" configuration will probably remain for the sake of both wind factors and safety concerns. Speaking of safety, Roy admitted the drones' detect-and-avoid system is far off, and this, among other concerns, has added years to Google's Project Wing time expectations.
The project's genesis was linked to a conversation about rapidly increasing delivery speeds, comparing the days of the Pony Express to firms like FedEx. "We’re starting to see same-day service actually change the world,” Google co-founder Sergey Brin told Roy. “Why would we think that the next 10x—being able to get something in just a minute or two—wouldn’t change the world?” (Perhaps it's been a while since Brin has gone to a supermarket.)
However, the report only indirectly addressed the Federal Aviation Administration's recent rejection of Amazon's proposed flying drones as a delivery mechanism, postulating that Google might use its lobbying clout as the project picks up steam to overturn any current restrictions. The feature also skipped explaining how Google might launch a product warehouse and distribution system from which drones would carry products to consumers.