While a handful of the world's top technology companies are engaged in an "arms race" to develop drones that can quickly deliver goods to anyone anywhere, Google is in the spotlight this week with news that it has successfully tested its "Project Wing" program in Australia. The story emerged Thursday with an exclusive feature published in The Atlantic.
The article by Alexis C. Madrigal revealed how Google successfully completed some 30 test flights and deliveries using its unmanned aviation system in mid-August. The system has been in development at Google X, the search-engine company's "semi-secret" research facility located near its Mountain View, California, headquarters.
In one test flight, Madrigal describes how "a tiny plane a bit bigger than a seagull" hovers over a man standing outside on an Australian cattle ranch, then lowers a package to the ground via a thin line before detaching the line and flying away. The man then picks up and opens the package, which contains dog treats.
"Though a couple of rumors have escaped the Googleplex -- because of course Google must have a drone-delivery program -- Project Wing's official existence and substance were revealed today," Madrigal writes. "I've spent the past week talking to Googlers who worked on the project, reviewing video of the flights, and interviewing other people convinced delivery by drone will work."
'Much More in Common with Self-Driving Car'
"We don't have a lot more details to share at this point," said Google spokesman Raymond Gobberg in an e-mailed statement. "The vehicle you see in our video is more a research vehicle than an indication of a final decision or direction -- as we figure out exactly what our service will deliver and where and why, we will look at a variety of vehicle options (both home-made and off-the-shelf)."
Gobberg added, "It's going to be a few years before we have a system ready -- this has much more in common with the self-driving car than with the remote-controlled planes you might see in the park on the weekend."
Commenting on the increasing competition in the drone space, Gobberg noted: "We think there's a lot of potential for this technology to help people in their daily lives. A rising tide lifts all boats; this is not a problem that one company, organization or government is going to solve. It's an incredibly difficult problem, and the more responsible participants in the space the better."
In addition to the self-driving car and the delivery drone, Google X is working on a number of other projects, including the Google Glass wearable computing eyewear, an airborne wind turbine, Google contact lenses and a high-flying, balloon-based Internet service network. (continued...)