In the past year, Amazon and Facebook have announced that they’re developing drones, and if there’s a potentially revolutionary technology people aren’t sure that they need, the makers of Google Glass want in. For the past two years, the Google X laboratory has been secretly working on a drone delivery program known as Project Wing, according to the Washington Post. This month the company started testing its fleet of drones in the Australian outback, as that nation has more permissive drone regulations than the United States.
We still have a few years before the skies are filled with drones, as the FAA has yet to approve their use and no company has eliminated the threat of drone-related maimings, so for now, announcing that you’re working on a fleet of drones is mainly about PR. Google may be late to the game, but it’s obviously trying to make its project look cooler than the rest.
For starters, Google’s drones have some interesting features, like a delivery method that prevents people from trying to grab the device. Per The Atlantic:
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.
While Google’s mission is still vague, it seems to strike a balance between Amazon’s somewhat trivial goal (delivering our Sopranos DVDs in 30 minutes or less) and Facebook’s noble but boring ambition (bringing the Internet to underserved populations around the world). Google was initially focused on finding a way to deliver defibrillators to help people having heart attacks, and so far its drones have delivered first aid kits, water bottles, and cattle vaccine to farmers.
“When you can get something near-instantly, it changes how you think about it,” Google said in its press release. “Think of the mom stuck at home with two sick kids, the hiker who’s met a poisonous snake, or the farmer out in the field with a sick animal. It could also open up new models for sharing goods rather than owning them — who needs a power drill for more than eight minutes a year?”
Then there’s the promo video. While it doesn’t show Google drones ferrying supplies to people in dangerous situations and creating a “sharing economy,” it’s definitely the most fun drone introduction we’ve seen. Watching a dad open his front door to retrieve an Amazon box delivered by a drone seemed pretty cool last year, but Google just upped the ante with an Australian farmer who feeds his cute dog freshly delivered treats as “Spirit in the Sky” plays in the background.