Google revealed that it has been developing a drone delivery system in the Australian outback, codenamed Project Wing.
Nicholas Roy, founder of Project Wing, said the tech giant has been secretly working on the project for two years at Google X, a division of Google dedicated to major technological advancements. It “resulted in a reliable system that can do autonomous delivery.”
In a video (below) released on YouTube Thursday, Google said it is “developing a delivery system that uses self-flying vehicles.” The company said it has had successful tests delivering a first-aid kit, candy bars, dog treats and water to some farmers.
“We’re only just beginning to develop the technology to make a safe delivery system possible, but we think that there’s tremendous potential to transport goods more quickly, safely and efficiently,” Google wrote on YouTube.
Australian farmer Neil Parfitt, from a property near Warwick in Queensland, was the first non-Google employee to receive a delivery via Google drone — a Cherry Ripe chocolate bar. To normally purchase the chocolate, Neil would need to drive 10km into town. During the test flight shown in the video, Parfitt’s dog also gets treated with a drone delivery of dog food from Roy, who is located at a neighboring property.
Over the course of the week, the team participated in over 30 test flights in Australia, which was picked as an ideal location due to its landscape and local experience with unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).
“Australia’s rolling hills, open sky and long standing history of innovation with UAVs provided the perfect opportunity to safely put our prototype vehicles and delivery system through their paces outside of a controlled lab environment,” Google said.
By testing in Australia, Google also avoided harsher “remotely piloted aircraft” policies, such as those in the United States, The Atlantic reported.
“The next phase is to take the momentum and enthusiasm we have built internally, and drive it towards enabling the dream of delivering stuff more quickly, with proper and due safety,” Project Wing lead Dave Vos said in the video.
Inside Google X, The Atlantic discovered how the drone-delivery system works with the “tail sitter” prototype tested on the farm in Australia.
During this initial phase of development, Google landed on an unusual design called a tail sitter, a hybrid of a plane and a helicopter that takes off vertically, then rotates to a horizontal position for flying around. For delivery, it hovers and winches packages down to the ground. At the end of the tether, there’s a little bundle of electronics they call the “egg,” which detects that the package has hit the ground, detaches from the delivery, and is pulled back up into the body of the vehicle.
With Amazon not yet delivering on its 2013 drone-delivery promise, Google is suddenly looking very serious. This means we might be getting home delivery by flying robot sooner than we think.
Alan is serial entrepreneur, active angel investor, and a drone enthusiast. He co-founded DRONELIFE.com to address the emerging commercial market for drones and drone technology. Prior to DRONELIFE.com, Alan co-founded Where.com, ThinkingScreen Media, and Nurse.com. Recently, Alan has co-founded Crowditz.com, a leader in Equity Crowdfunding Data, Analytics, and Insights. Alan can be reached at alan(at)dronelife.com