Project Wing, a drone-delivery moonshot started by Google and now under control of parent company Alphabet, hasn't quite attracted the same publicity as some other big companies in the space. But since it was first unveiled in 2014, the team has been quietly toiling away in the shadows and is now looking to ramp things up, partnering with fast food chain Chipotle to deliver burritos to students at Virginia Tech in new trials starting this month.
Project Wing emerged out of the semi-secretive Google X lab, the research arm behind some of the company's more audacious concepts such as a glucose-monitoring contact lens, internet-beaming balloons and a little something called Google Glass. The drone-delivery concept relies on fixed-wing aircraft that can take off vertically and lower packages to the ground on a retractable tether.
When Project Wing first revealed the technology to the public, it demonstrated the autonomous drones delivering dog food, radios and chocolates at an Australian farm two years ago. It has since continued testing and refining the system on private land in California and is now turning its attention to Virginia Tech, a federally approved testing site where startup Flirtey is also putting its drones through their paces.
This will be the first time Project Wing has used its drones to deliver items to external users in the US, though it's not going to be a frijole free-for-all. The trials will take place at a closed site, where participating students and employees will be able to place an order. The food will be prepared by Chipotle in a truck onsite and then delivered to the hungry customers by Project Wing's drones.
"We want to learn how people feel when they're receiving a package by air, and taking someone's time and/or money changes things more than a little," writes Astro Teller, the X lab's so called Captain of Moonshots, in a blog post. "And we want to feel the pressure of unexpected circumstances that show us how we can get better at loading and managing a fleet of planes."
The tests will allow researchers at Virginia Tech Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership and Project Wing to study the vehicle performance and navigational capacity, while also gauging the human response to the idea of flying burritos. The resulting technical, safety and user-experience data will be shared with the Federal Aviation Administration, as it continues its efforts to integrate commercial drones into national airspace.
The video below from earlier in the year shows Project Wing's drones in action.
Source: Virginia Tech