Google tests autonomous delivery drones in Australia

02 Sep 2014


Google has conducted tests on autonomous delivery drones in Queensland, under a two-year programme called Project Wing.

The programme is being run by Google's R&D division called Google X, which is also working on the internet company's self-driving car technology, technology website electronicsnews reported.

Project Wing aims to develop drones that can be used to deliver supplies of items in disaster-hit areas or isolated zones.

The drones could deliver small items like batteries and medicines to people stranded in areas that other vehicles cannot reach.

In Queensland, Australia, Google tested delivery of packages to remote farms from neighbouring properties. Australia was chosen as the testing ground due to its relaxed aviation rules on the use of drones.

Google's drones, which are propeller driven, have a 1.5-metre wingspan with each aircraft weighing 8.5kg, capable of carrying 1.5kg load.

The four-propeller aircraft sits on its tail while on the ground. The propellers give it the lift, to take off in the air, after which it flips into a horizontal flying mode.

The drones, which could be said to be a cross between a plane and quadcopter, can take off and land without a runway, and also hover in position, just like a normal drone. However, thanks to the plane mode, the craft can fly longer distances than normal quadcopters.

Meanwhile, commentators point out that the test run of delivery drone, might actually be the easier part, The New York Times reports. They say the real tricky issues set to come to the fore might be more difficult to tackle.

Drone technology had not been thoroughly tested in populated areas and commercial use of drones remains banned in the US. Even if it were allowed it was not clear that companies could make a profit using advanced, helicopter-like vehicles to deliver dog food, toothpaste or whatever else a modern family might need.

However, dozens of companies had tested drones for tasks such as crop dusting and monitoring breaks in railroad tracks and oil pipelines.

Last year, Amazon revealed its experimental delivery service, Prime Air, which according to the company's claims could one day deliver packages to customers within half an hour.

Also researchers at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) are working on ways to manage these new class of flying machines.

At its Moffett Federal Airfield, about 6km from Google's headquarters in California, the agency has been developing a drone traffic management programme that would, in effect, function as a separate air-traffic control system for things that flew low to the ground - around 400 to 500 feet for most drones.

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