This Thursday, Google revealed its newest experiment – Project Wing – which is an experimental program that features a drone delivery service. And Google revealed the project in its typical dramatic fashion, releasing a video that featured an unmanned drone delivering dog treats in Australia.
The drone, which looked like a mixture of a plane and a helicopter, is part of Google’s long-term projects division called Google X.
A major obstacle, however, still exists for Google and Amazon – the FAA does not allow drones to be used for commercial reasons. On top of that, the governing body has passed laws specifically targeting unmanned drone delivery service. That’s why Google and Amazon have taken their testing overseas.
Google ran its test runs in Australia while Amazon worked out the kinks over in India. Amazon’s program is known as Amazon Prime Air.
Outside of the laws, Google and Amazon face other challenges. For starters, could this type of service even be profitable? Current drones do not have the capacity to carry large or heavy objects. And would consumers trust a drone to deliver a $500 iPhone? On top of that, these aircrafts have not been tested in highly-populated areas.
Also, what type of air-traffic control is in place for these drones? Currently, there is none. This is something that researchers at NASA are working on at Moffett Field, located (conveniently) only four miles from Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, California. This program would not only monitor traffic but also weather and wind; since drones are so light, wind affects them greatly.
But this system would have to go even further than that. Due to the low altitudes that drones are flown at, they would have to be alert of buildings, power lines, low-flying helicopters, etc. And it would get rid of people altogether, using computers and algorithms to calculate each drones’ next move.
While a drone delivery services seems a long ways away from becoming a viable service, many experts are predicting that drones will soon have an impact in a variety of other areas. Drones are already being used for crop dusting — soon, drones will expand further into agriculture. Dr. Parimal H. Kopardekar, a NASA principal investigator, said that he expects drones to soon monitor assets such as crops or even oil pipelines.
The Federal Aviation Administration, however, is still the largest obstacle for these companies to overcome. One spokesman from the FAA said that it is expecting to publish a rule for small, unmanned aircrafts later this year.
The FAA has always allowed hobbyists to fly the unmanned aircrafts – given that they are not endangering other people, aircrafts or property.
Another thing to consider is whether people will generally accept the idea of drones delivering goods to them. Will people feel safe around them? Will people vandalize them?
But Google plans on moving forward with its drone development; in the next year, Google wants to continue improving its navigation abilities. Google has been working on a “detect and avoid” system using a system of sensors. The company said that within the next decade it expects the technology to be realistic.