Inside Google’s secret drone delivery program

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.

  • Rob

    It’s as much a non-starter as Amazon’s drone system would be. It’s all PR with no real content. And if you’re concerned about stranded hikers, consider that anywhere this can go, a real helicopter with a real rescue hoist can go, not to deliver food or a radio, but to get them out of there.

    • matthewmaurice

      How bad is it that you’re doing Me-Too R&D?! If this is what the big brains in Mountain View are spending their time on, they really need to find something better to do. Speaking of which, anyone hear anything more about the blood glucose measuring contact lenses? Or was that just more vaporware to get some…uh, what’s the modern equivalent of “column inches?”

  • if apple doesnt come out w/ a drone delivery program, theyre screwed!

    • matthewmaurice

      “Within 90 days or they run the risk of becoming irrelevant!”

  • Terry Maraccini

    Technology in search of a problem

  • exapple

    “We’re delivering puppies to childhood lukemia patients! Sorry, what? Why the video camera? The microphone? And the wifi scanner? Didn’t you hear me? Puppies!”

  • reagan9000

    Name and title fun: “Astro Teller, Captain of Moonshots”