Drones: Google’s sky-high ambitions

Google is spreading its wings, said Alexis C. Madrigal in The Atlantic. The tech giant unveiled a drone delivery project called Project Wing last week, which aims to use “self-flying vehicles” to transport and deliver goods. The project has been in development for two years at Google X—the research lab responsible for Google’s self-driving cars and the Google Glass headset—and has run more than 30 test flights in Queensland, Australia, delivering items such as radios, candy bars, and cattle vaccines to farmers. With a wingspan of 5 feet and a weight of 19 pounds, the Project Wing drones take off vertically and then hover and winch packages down to the ground. Though Google says it will be years before the vehicles are ready for commercial use, it imagines a future in which its drones help reduce the carbon footprint of traditional delivery vehicles like planes and trucks, and goods can be delivered mere minutes after orders are placed.

Google is clearly trying to give Amazon a run for its money, said Will Oremus in Slate.com. The Internet retailer announced its own drone delivery ambitions last year, with plans to develop a system that could deliver orders to customers within half an hour. Both companies’ commercial aims are years away, but the drones they develop could have other applications, such as delivering emergency relief more efficiently or letting people rent certain items, like a power drill, “for only the few minutes that they need them before sending them on their way.” It’s too early to say how Google’s efforts stack up against Amazon’s. But one thing is clear: The drone war has begun.

Amazon may have at least one advantage, said Alex Wilhelm in TechCrunch.com. The company is already experienced in sourcing, shipping, and delivering goods. Still, “non-military drones remain a nascent area of technology,” and Google could quickly catch up. For now, both companies will face similar challenges if they want their drone experiments to really take off. That means building “fleets that are safe, and useful enough for the average consumer to want to summon,” but also economically viable. Government regulations will make that tough task more difficult, said Conor Dougherty in The New York Times. The Federal Aviation Administration has banned commercial drones in the U.S. pending new rules that are due next year, and the vehicles haven’t been tested in densely populated cities. That won’t stop Google or Amazon from moving forward, but the days of receiving “dog food, toothpaste, or whatever else a modern family might need” via hovering drone are still a distant prospect.

-As seen in The Week
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