When Amazon first showed off its ‘Prime Air’ drone delivery concept towards the end of last year, many people felt that it was merely a PR stunt. Drones did not yet have the battery life, reliability or indeed the legal approval to deliver any meaningful amount of cargo, especially across large distances. While all of these criticisms were valid, the field of drone deliveries is far from dead.
Just today Google has revealed some details about its latest secretive Google X project. Dubbed Project Wing, this project involves research into the use of versatile drones to deliver packages and cargo not just in between houses, but also across wider distances.
In order to achieve this goal, Google has built a series of specialised drones that, through the use of specialized propellers, can both fly through the air like a plane, and also hover like a helicopter. This enables the drones to cover large distances at speed which flying horizontally, before switching to a vertical configuration to allow the accurate delivery of goods, which are dropped on an extendable cable.
Google admits they are still “years away” from a usable product.
As current FAA restrictions make these sort of commercial drone flights illegal in the US, the Google X team traveled to the Outback in the north-eastern Australian state of Queensland in order to test their project. There they worked for two years to improve their design, and conducted a series of test flights. All up 30 flights were carried out, dropping vital supplies like water, vaccines, first aid kits and food to remote farming properties.
While this technology is indeed promising, Google admits they are still “years away” from a usable mass-market product. Alongside these technological issues, there are also huge regulatory hurdles that commercial delivery drones will have to navigate in order to see widespread deployment. The current FAA ban is due to be put under review in 2015, and hopefully (for proponents of the technology) the lawmakers will move to allow the use of drones by companies such as Google and Amazon.
Until then unfortunately, all we have are a number of cool, but nonetheless unviable concepts.
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