Project Wing Drone Delivers Google
In rural Australia, a drone delivers dog treats to a farmer. The robot is a PROOF of concept, part of Project Wing by Google X. The program is designed to show that delivery drones are possible, and it seems to be doing just that. Next for Google: figuring out the path from proven prototype to everyday utility.
The drone is a tail-sitter, taking off vertically with its body perpendicular to the ground. At rest, it looks like a tiny spaceship from a 1930s comic BOOK. It’s a type of Vertical Takeoff or Landing (VTOL) rarely done with humans on board, because that transition, from vertical to horizontal and back again, is difficult for onboard human pilots to manage. For the drone it works fine, and the design lets the wing fly fast like a plane. It also means the drone can hover, and that’s where the delivery mechanism of Project Wing shines:
Mechanical engineer Joanna Cohen, trained at Cal Tech and MIT, designed the contraption. It consists of a few key parts. The first is the winch itself, which spools out the hi-grade fishing line. The second is the “egg,” the little gadget that goes down with the package, detects that it has reached the ground, releases the delivery, and signals that it should be cranked BACK UP to the hovering UAV. If something goes wrong, there is an emergency release mechanism at the top of the line—“basically a razor blade,” Cohen told me—that allows the UAV to cut and fly.
A working delivery mechanism is the first step for the service. With the prototype in place, the next challenge is creating an infrastructure for drones so that they can travel safely through skies without hitting other vehicles. Google’s driverless car program is an obvious touchstone for this project, but it’s a limited one. Cars on roads travel in close proximity and only move in two dimensions. Aircraft operate in vast, empty skies, and do so on three AXES. Training a car to sense and avoid other cars is simpler than doing the same for an aircraft. Still, Google’s development and prior experience with cars is a strong sign that this work will continue and ultimately yield fruit. Michael Toscano, CEO of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, said that
Google’s announcement of its planned UAS DELIVERY SERVICE further demonstrates the potential of UAS technology. It also highlights how this technology will revolutionize industries and the importance of the FAA keeping the integration process on track.
It’s worth noting that Google tested this technology IN AUSTRALIA first. While the FAA clearly wants drones to sense and avoid other aircraft, its been slow to implement changes and create a regulatory framework that lets innovation like this happen stateside. If the drone INDUSTRYwants to change the world, it’ll need an FAA that lets it deliver. Watch the drone in action below, and read more about Project Wing at The Atlantic.