Google’s Project Wing Runs Tests In Australia; Using Drones For Deliveries
For two years now, Google has been running Project Wing in secrecy until few days ago. The project has been running under Google’s clandestine tech research arm, Google X, which is also accredited to the self-driving car. This project is building and testing autonomous aerial vehicles, which Google intends to be use for goods deliveries.
According to Google, the project’s long-term goal is to develop drones that could used to deliver aid to isolated areas during disaster relief. For instance, in areas affected by earthquakes, extreme weather events. The drone could be used to transport small items such as medicines and batteries to people trapped in areas where vehicles cannot easily travel to.
“Even just a few of these, being able to shuttle nearly continuously could service a very large number of people in an emergency situation,” said, Astro Teller, Captain of Moonshot: Google X’s name for big-thinking projects.
The idea of a self-flying vehicle was first conceived by Google, as a way of delivering defibrillator kits to individuals suspected to be suffering heart attacks. It is believed that drones could transport medical equipments to the patients faster than an ambulance vehicle could.
The incoming Project Wing leader, Dave Voss, said, “When you have a tool like this, you can really allow the operators of those emergency services to add an entirely new dimension to the set of tools and solutions that they can think of.”
Project Wing has been doing some test-runs on prototype vehicles and has successfully used the vehicles to deliver packages to remote farms in Queensland, Australia. Google specifically chose Australia for this experimental procedure because of what it calls, Australia’s “progressive” rules on the use of drones; unlike most parts of the world where the rules are very prohibitive.
The prototype aircraft being tested by Project Wing has a wingspan of about 1.5m (4.9ft) fitted with four electrically-driven propellers. It weighs about 10kg (22lb) including the packaging, but the aircraft itself weighs about 8.5kg (18.7lb). The aircraft has a “blended wing” in that the whole body of the aircraft provides lift.
The aircraft is also referred to as “tail sitter,” because it rests on the ground with the propellers facing upwards, but during flight, the propellers transform into a horizontal flight pattern. The dual mode operation gives the drone some of the benefits of a helicopter and plane.
This means it does not need a runway during takeoff and landing. Also, it can hold position in one spot by just hovering. At the same time, it can fly quickly and efficiently; covering greater distance compared to what a conventional quad copter vehicle would have.
The drone is pre-programmed with the destination coordinates and left to fly itself there automatically. This is very different from most military drones which are mostly remotely controlled by a human pilot on the ground, or sometimes located on a different side of the planet.
Google is also considering using these self-flying drones to deliver shopping items to consumers to their homes. That use has already picked a big interest with Amazon, especially considering Amazon’s proposed Prime Air service; an announcement that made a lot of news headlines last year. Amazon has since asked the US Federal Aviation Administration for the permission to carry out outdoor tests.
“The things we would do there are not unlike what is traditionally done in aerospace,” said Mr Voss. “It will be clear for us what level of redundancy we need in the controls and sensors, the computers that are onboard, and the motors, and how they are able to fail gracefully such that you don’t have catastrophic problems occurring.”
Other than the self-flying drones, other equally unusual vehicles to be tested for the humanitarian aid purposes include a flying car and a hover bike. For the purpose of delivering humanitarian aid to cut-off areas quickly.
Lou Del Bello from SciDev.net was cited by BBC saying, “We will have to see what kind of specific technology works best within the aid landscape, and if the new technology can integrate positively in the local context. It will need to demonstrate it can be cost effective, and respond to actual needs of local people.”