Google’s secret drone delivery program

29 August 2014

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The Atlantic revealed the inside story of Google’s two-year secret X-labs drone-delivery project in a detailed story by Alexis Madrigal. Project Wing, as the drone-delivery venture is called, has already conducted test flights delivering small packages to rural areas of Australia. Watch the Google promo video:

The Atlantic article describes how the present form of drone came to be a tail sitter, i.e., a hybrid of plane and helicopter, which takes off vertically but flies horizontally.

After observing some users attempting to grab the package before it was actually delivered, Google decided for safety reasons to winch the package down to the ground instead of flying down and placing the package there when making a delivery. Thus the drone hovers in a vertical position and winches down the package on a tether line, which also contains an “egg” of electronics. The egg detects when (or if) the package has reached the ground, electronically detaches, and instructs the vehicle to haul up the tether.

Dave Vos, an experienced unmanned aerial and marine systems engineer, is heading up Project Wing for Google. According to the Atlantic story, there are already dozens of people working on various aspects of the project: delivery mechanism, user experience, the app for ordering up the drones, etc. The article didn’t mention where the product that was being delivered came from or how the recipient ordered and paid for that product. That’s another secret waiting to be discovered.

Perhaps the most interesting statement from the article was this:

Of course Google wants the world to believe in delivery by drone as part of the natural progression of a technological society to deliver things faster and faster. This is how the world works.

Take that, Amazon!

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Frank Tobe is the owner and publisher of The Robot Report, and is also a panel member for Robohub's Robotics by Invitation series.
Frank Tobe is the owner and publisher of The Robot Report, and is also a panel member for Robohub's Robotics by Invitation series.

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