August 29, 2014, 11:14 AM

Google’s drone leaves the nest

Following successful delivery tests in Australia, Google’s 2-year-old drone program, called Project Wing, goes public. It puts Google in direct competition with Amazon, which has developed its own drones for delivering online orders.

Lead Photo

The Google Inc. drone has landed—or, rather, successfully delivered a package. Google released a YouTube video yesterday showing a prototype drone from Project Wing, the 2-year-old drone at Google’s research lab (Google X), successfully delivering a package of dog food.

The test took place in Australia because its regulations surrounding flights of unmanned aircraft are more lenient than those in the United States. “The goal of being here is to show that the hard work over the last two years has resulted in a reliable system that can do autonomous delivery,” Nicholas Roy, the founder of Project Wing, said in the video. “It’s years from a product but it is sort of the first prototype that we want to stand behind.”

In the video, the 3-foot-long, white drone takes off vertically, sitting on its rear end, and then transitions to flying horizontally, similar to a commercial airplane. This allows it to move faster, Google says.

At the delivery spot, the drone transitions back to a vertical position and hovers, similar to a helicopter. It drops the package, which is housed in a space between the wing’s two sides. The package is attached to the drone by a cord with a sensor at the end of it. When the sensor detects that the package has hit the ground, it disconnects and retracts back into the drone. The drone transitions back into a horizontal position and flies away.

Google’s ambitions for the project are big; the company calls endeavors such as drone deliver “moonshots” for that reason. “Throughout history, there have been a series of innovations that have each taken a huge chunk out of the friction of moving things around,” Astro Teller, Captain of Moonshots at Google X, said in the video. “Project Wing aspires to take another big chunk of the remaining friction of moving things around in the world.”

The subject of drones is not new in e-commerce. Amazon Inc. has been testing its drones, which are built more like traditional helicopters, inside its research and development lab in Seattle.

Earlier this summer, the e-retailing giant petitioned the Federal Aviation Administration to allow it to test outside the use of drones for commercial purposes. Amazon is currently limited to testing the drones indoors in the United States.

Amazon says it has been able to develop drones that can travel more than 50 miles per hour and carry packages up to five pounds. Amazon says that weight limit covers more than 86% of products sold on Amazon.com. Google did not release details about the delivery capabilities of its drones or the speed with which they can fly.

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