Summary: Google has introduced Project Wing, a drone delivery service that is expected to be available for commercial use in the next few years.
The New York Times reports that last week, Google introduced Project Wing to the world. Project Wing is an experimental program from Google X, Google’s long-term projects division. Google displayed a video that showed a half plane, half helicopter aircraft drop dog treats to a farmer in Australia using a 200-foot fishing line.
Companies all over the world are jumping on the drone bandwagon, but the technology still faces many challenges. United States law bans the use of commercial drones, and the technology has not been tested in heavily populated areas. Plus, it’s not clear how much profit—if any—a company could make by using a drone to deliver items worth a only few dollars in value.
Last year, Amazon introduced Prime Air, which boasts delivery times of only a half hour to its customers. Other companies have experimented with using drones for tasks such as crop dusting and monitoring railroad tracks and oil pipelines.
NASA has stepped in to offer its assistance with observing the new aircrafts. NASA’s Moffett field is located roughly four miles from Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, California. NASA has begun developing a separate air traffic control system for the drones, which typically fly at an altitude of about 400 to 500 feet. The new system would monitor weather and traffic. Drones are at particular risk of wind damages, since they are so much lighter than other aircraft.
NASA’s system would also prevent drones from crashing into buildings and other air traffic. No fly zones would be created near major airports.
Parimal H. Kopardekar, a NASA principal investigator who is both developing and managing the program, explained the challenges that drone technology faces: “One at a time you can make them work and keep them safe…but when you have a number of them in operation in the same airspace, there is no infrastructure to support it.”
Unlike current air traffic control centers, which rely on human air traffic controllers and radar screens, the drone system would use computers and algorithms to determine where the drones can and cannot fly.
The two primary factors that will determine the demand for drone technology are the number of people that live in the delivery area and the amount of money they’re willing to pay for such a service.
Dr. Kopardekar predicts that agricultural industries will be the first to regularly use drones. He explained that drones would be useful for “asset monitoring,” such as watching crops and oil pipelines. In the next five years, he expects drone deliveries to thinly populated areas, like the countryside of Australia.
Of course, the Federal Aviation Administration has the final say over flying objects in the United States. The F.A.A. would have to approve any sort of drone system that NASA created. The process is moving forward, however, as an F.A.A. spokesman stated that a proposed rule is expected to be published for small, unmanned aircrafts that weigh less than 55 pounds.
Google will advance its drone technology over the next year. Specifically, Google will work on the drone’s navigation system and its “detect and avoid” system, which will prevent crashes. Google expects its drones to be widely used in “a few years but less than a decade.”
Dr. Kopardekar added that public acceptance was also a major part of introducing drones to the world. “How do you have them safely land and take off in the presence of a grandma doing landscaping and kids playing soccer?”
In fact, Domino’s Pizza recently got its customers’ hopes up when it created a video that demonstrated a drone pizza delivery. In response to the excitement, Domino’s clarified that it only plans to use humans for pizza deliveries in the foreseeable future. “Given the fact that these things have spinning blades, could be stolen, shot at or batted like piñatas, we didn’t think the idea would ‘fly’ here in the United States.”
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