Google’s secret drone delivery program

The Atlantic revealed the inside story of Google's two-year secret X-labs drone-delivery project in a detailed story by Alexis Madrigal.
By Frank Tobe, The Robot Report September 2, 2014

Project Wing, as the drone-delivery venture is called, has already conducted test flights delivering small packages to rural areas of Australia.

Figure 1: Google's Project Wing. Courtesy: The Robot Report

The article in "The Atlantic" describes how the present form of drone came to be a tail sitter, that is, a hybrid of plane and helicopter which takes off vertically but flies horizontally.

When making a delivery, for safety reasons and after experiencing users attempting to grab the package before it was actually delivered, Google decided to winch the package down to the ground instead of flying down and placing the package there. Thus, the drone hovers in a vertical position and winches down the package on a tether line which also contains an "egg" of electronics. The egg detects when (or if) the package has reached the ground, electronically detaches, and instructs the vehicle to haul up the tether.

Dave Vos, an experienced unmanned aerial and marine systems engineer, is heading up Project Wing for Google. According to the Atlantic story, there are already dozens of people working on various aspects of the project: delivery mechanism, user experience, the app for ordering up the drones, etc. The article didn’t mention where the product that was being delivered came from or how the recipient ordered and paid for that product. That’s another secret waiting to be discovered.

Perhaps the most interesting statement from the article was this:

"Of course Google wants the world to believe in delivery by drone as part of the natural progression of a technological society to deliver things faster and faster. This is how the world works."

UPDATE 08-29-14: NHK World announced that Sony had begun to develop drones of their own but not for consumer deliveries. Instead, equipped with other Sony equipment such as digital cameras and sensors, Sony’s drones will initially be used to inspect infrastructure such as aging tunnels and bridges and to check how agricultural crops are doing.

Frank Tobe is the owner and publisher of The Robot Report. This article originally appeared here. Edited by Anisa Samarxhiu, Digital Project Manager, CFE Media,