Google Gets Serious About Drone Delivery

Secret project will revolutionize our stockpiling ways

Aug 29, 2014
Outside Magazine
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Google's delivery drones lower packages to the ground on a thin cable. The company tested the vehicle by delivering dog treats, candy bars, and other small items to ranchers in Australia.    Google/YouTube

Amazon has been making noise about implementing drone-powered package delivery over the past year, but Google dropped a game-changing piece of news on Thursday when the company revealed it's been secretly exploring its own drone delivery system for the past two years. Project Wing has already developed and tested a drone that could fly a package across a city in as little as two minutes.

Google's Project Wing researchers explained to the Atlantic why they're getting behind drone delivery with such force. There are the obvious benefits of small unmanned vehicles taking over delivery: They're environmentally friendly, faster, and safer. But in typical Google fashion, researchers also envision a fundamental social change. If we could have anything delivered to us almost immediately, we wouldn't need to stockpile goods in our homes or produce as much of the stuff. Society could shift from one of ownership to one of access and sharing, says Astro Teller, director of Google X's laboratories.

The company's small delivery vehicle looks like a pod with wings. When it reaches its destination, the drone's "belly" opens and lowers the package to the ground on a thin cable. Google has successfully tested it through 31 flights in mid-August.

Looking forward, Thursday's Project Wing reveal could accelerate the rate at which drone delivery becomes a reality. "Google simply showing interest in flying drones legitimizes all these efforts by people who are trying to marshal much greater resources than they currently have to make their initiatives work," according to the Atlantic. After all, one of the biggest barriers for Amazon and others has been convincing the Federal Aviation Administration to let their drones fly. 

It's partly because of the FAA that Google can't pinpoint when its drones could start landing packages on doorsteps, but now that the Internet giant has spoken in favor of drone delivery, it seems almost inevitable. "I'm cautiously optimistic that everyone wants the same thing," Teller says. In the meantime, watch the Google drone deliver a package to Australian cattle farmers: