It shouldn’t really come as a surprise that a search-engine company that’s building self-driving cars would want to muscle in on drones too. The internet firm’s top-secret project division, Google X, announced yesterday that it’s tested an ‘autonomous unmanned vehicle’ in Australia, delivering supplies to a farmer in remote Queensland. Presumably he was a willing participant.
The announcement about ‘Project Wing’ (cue James Bond music) means Google are joining the race to provide automated delivery services to customers, with devices better known for carrying surveillance equipment and machine guns for the US military. Amazon announced their own project, Amazon Prime Air, last year, though MT at least still gets its deliveries from a bloke in a van.
Drone deliveries have enormous potential, according to Google X. Its outgoing chief, Astro Teller (better known to his mum as Eric), said: ‘What excited us from the beginning was that if the right thing could find anybody just in the moment that they need it, the world might be radically better place.’
A major issue facing commercial drone development remains the reluctance of civil authorities to allow their use, which Amazon and others have been lobbying for in the US. Dave Voss, incoming leader of Project Wing, spoke about the need for redundancy in the drone’s systems, so that they will be able to ‘fail gracefully’.
From a legal perspective, this will prove very important. If the likes of Google or Amazon want to use drones commercially, they’ll need to make sure above all that they’re safe. While it may be cool to have a drone deliver biscuits to your window every morning, it wouldn’t be so cool if one dropped from the heavens onto your windscreen (or head).
Combining aspects of planes and helicopters, the drones are 1.5m across and weigh 8.5kg, with the capacity to carry a 1.5kg package, lowered on a line from beneath their wings. It is not known whether they will have any inbuilt customer service dialogue options, or whether your only choice will be to curse impotently at the rapidly disappearing drone after it delivers a pack of doggie treats rather than your much-needed custard creams. Some things, after all, will never change.