Google has been secretly developing its own UAV systems for parcel deliveries to overcome traffic jams and difficult terrain.
A response to a similar venture by Amazon, Project Wing is a product of Google’s secret X lab, known for developing driverless cars and smart internet-connected glasses.
"Self-flying vehicles could open up entirely new approaches to moving goods, including options that are cheaper, faster, less wasteful and more environmentally sensitive than what's possible today," Google said in a pamphlet outlining Project Wing.
Although not the core of its activities, same day parcel deliveries form part of Google’s business in the San Francisco area and the company hopes drones could help expand its share of the home-delivery market dominated by rival Amazon.
Google believes the drones could also make it easier for people to share various items, such as tools they only need once in a while. Moreover, the system could be deployed in areas struck by natural disasters to deliver emergency supplies.
Google tested its UAVs in Australia, successfully delivering items such a first aid kit, sweets, dog food and water to local farmers. During the tests the drones had to cross a distance of about half a mile. However, Google said the technology is years away from being market ready.
But perfecting the technology is only one of the challenges on the way towards widespread deployment of drones. Both, Google and Amazon, would have to obtain a government approval to fly its system in the countries where they would like to operate, including the USA.
Last month Amazon asked the Federal Aviation Administration for permission to expand its drone testing. The FAA currently allows hobbyists and model aircraft makers to fly drones, but commercial use is mostly banned.
Google’s X lab was set up with the official goal of improving the society through cutting edge research addressing some of the key areas including transport, health and communications.
The lab has come under criticism for its lack of transparency regarding financing and the inability to guarantee success of its ventures. Also criticised was one of its products – the Google Glass – which is seen as a possible threat to privacy as it enables taking videos and pictures without anyone noticing.
Project Wing was developed by a team led by Massachusetts Institute of Technology aeronautics professor Nick Roy, who has been developing the technology for the last two years. The costs of the project have not been made revealed.