Google has taken the lid off a previously secret project that is being run out of its semi-secret Google X research arm. Project Wing is focusing on the development of "a delivery system that uses self-flying vehicles." In other words, unmanned drones intended to autonomously deliver packages where and when they're needed.
The projects worked on at Google X are often so ambitious that they might otherwise be written of as pie in the sky concepts dreamt up by mad scientists. On the contrary, though, Google X tends to show that its ideas – the ones we find out about, at least – are not just feasible, but are potentially world-changing – and it does so prolifically. It is responsible for Google Glass, a glucose-monitoring contact lens, balloons that provide internet access to remote areas and, most recently, the Project Tango mobile phone that maps its surroundings in 3D.
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The latest project to come out of the facility has the humble aims of moving things around quickly and safely. "Throughout history there have been a series of innovations that have each taken a huge chunk out of the friction of moving things around," says Captain of Moonshots (actual job title) at Google X, Astro Teller (actual name). "Project Wing aspires to take another big chunk of the remaining friction out of moving things around in the world."
Those of you up on autonomous drone delivery news may find all this somewhat familiar. Indeed, towards the end of last year, Amazon announced that it had plans to develop a means of delivering packages using drones. The goal of the system, Amazon says, is be to get packages into customers' hands within 30 minutes. Google's aim, according to a BBC report, is to develop a way of delivering aid to isolated areas during times of disaster relief.
According to Google, Project Wing has been in development for around two years. A video released by the search giant of a test flight in Australia shows a winged, shuttle-like craft taking off vertically using what appear to be four front-mounted propellers. The craft, named Chickadee 6 judging by the footage, navigates its way autonomously to a predefined location. Hovering above the treeline, it gently lowers a package to the ground on a cord, breaks off its attachment to the package and reels the cord back in before returning home.
The founder of Project Wing, Nicholas Roy, explains that the tests are aimed at demonstrating a "reliable system that can do autonomous delivery." In addition, he says the tests will help the team to learn what it's like to actually make a deliveries to someone using the technology and what it's like for the recipient. "It's years from a product," says Roy, "But it is the first prototype that we want to stand behind."
The video below provides an introduction to Google Wing.