Google’s semi-secret R&D arm, Google X, just took the wraps off its drone delivery program, called Project Wing.
During this initial phase of development, Google landed on an unusual design called a tail sitter, a hybrid of a plane and a helicopter that takes off vertically, then rotates to a horizontal position for flying around. For delivery, it hovers and winches packages down to the ground. At the end of the tether, there’s a little bundle of electronics they call the “egg,” which detects that the package has hit the ground, detaches from the delivery, and is pulled back up into the body of the vehicle.
That last bit is one of two big problems with drone delivery. Even if all the bugs can be worked out in scheduling and crash avoidance, there’s still the human factor. If a drone drops the package, it could hit someone or land in an unexpected location. If the package is lowered via winch (as is done in the video below), what’s to prevent someone from grabbing the line and pulling the drone out of the sky?
My favorite comment from the YouTube page:
It’ll be like skeet shooting, with prizes!
Yup, that’s an issue, too. But I do think this is a worthwhile endeavor. At the very least, this is a solid framework for getting meds or lightweight emergency gear to a rural location. Perhaps food, a cellphone or radio to a climber trapped on a mountain, that sort of thing.