Drone Wars: Google’s Project Wing Out to Battle Amazon’s Delivery Drones
After dominating the Internet, ruling over mobile operating systems, and flirting with wearables and driverless cars, Google is once more exploring another venture: Project Wing. The California-based Internet and software company aims to make the online purchase deliveries faster and more efficient through the use of drones. As Amazon attempts to offer counterparts to Google’s services, from the smart devices to the online ads, Google is apparently carefully reactive to not let other companies come close.
Project Wing is one of the projects under the semi-secret Google X Labs responsible for the development of Google Glass, Project Loon, and the Google Self-Driving Car. It was only announced on August 28 this year but had been confidentially developed by the company for around two years. Full-scale series of flight tests are being under undertaken in Australia.
Project Wing is pretty much like Amazon’s Prime Air. However, unlike Amazon’s drone delivery system which was really intended to serve as a delivery option for Amazon customers, Project Wing was originally conceptualized to deliver defibrillators to those who suffer heart attack in emergency situations, ideally within two minutes. According to an article on Extreme Tech, Google encountered problems in attempting to integrate Project Wing with the United States 911 and emergency service systems. Hence, the focus shifted to making the drone a same-day delivery solution for other purposes including disaster relief.
In contrast to Amazon’s helicopter like drone, Google’s Project Wing is notably different. Google’s drone is a combination of a helicopter and a plane. It can hover like a copter but cruises like a plane. This design allows it to be faster and most likely more power efficient. Google’s drone also takes off and lands vertically. It does not need an airway in the same way typical airplanes do.
Google’s drone has a wingspan of approximately 5 feet and is around 19 lbs or 8.6 kg heavy. It is equipped with four electric motors that appear to be capable of carrying a relatively tiny payload of only around 3 lbs or a total weight of around 22 lbs. In comparison, Amazon’s drone can carry a payload of not more than 5 lbs.
The drone also has a camera that allows a pilot to find a sensible spot where the package will be dropped. This human pilot intervention, however, does not mean that the Project Wing drone can’t fly autonomously. It has a comprehensive set of radios and sensors that allow it to fly to the intended location without a human piloting it.
As shown on the demo video released by Google (posted on Youtube), the drone will drop a package from the air but with a tether. The drone will not land to deliver the package. It will only hover on a suitable area and air drop the package with the aid of the tether that has a fastening/unfastening “egg” on its tip. This is done to avoid accidents on people, pets, and properties especially since the drone has exposed propellers. These propellers are not as prominent as those of Amazon’s drone but they can still cause injuries. Moreover, this system also ensures that the drone won’t have difficulties taking off to return to base. Not having to land and take off again means that there will be significantly lower risks of encountering low altitude obstacles such as utility lines and trees.
Limitations and Challenges
Unfortunately, just like the Amazon delivery drone, Project Wing also suffers from legal limitations and public concerns. Legally, Google cannot deploy the drone yet to do deliveries for online purchases even if it is already good to go for deployment. For now, in the United States, it is still illegal to operate UAV technology for commercial use. The Federal Aviation Administration has yet to accomplish a “safe integration of civil unmanned aircraft systems into the national airspace system.”
Google’s purchase of drone maker Titan Aerospace back in April may have contributed to augmenting the Project Wing development. Google’s drone certainly looks promising and arguably better than Amazon’s concept. However, deployment may still take more time. Google is nonetheless calling for partners to help in expediting the practical application of this exciting technology. Google has prepared an online Project Wing interest form for those who are interested to extend some assistance.