Add delivery drones to the list of products being developed by the Google X (NASDAQ:GOOG) long-term R&D division. In an in-depth column, The Atlantic reports Google has carried out over 30 test flights for its drone initiative, known as Project Wing, and hopes its drones can eventually be used by its same-day delivery service to deliver products within minutes.
Google, whose effort has been ongoing for 2 years, has opted for an unconventional aircraft design called a tail-sitter. It's described as "a hybrid of a plane and a helicopter that takes off vertically, then rotates to a horizontal position for flying around." By contrast, Amazon's (NASDAQ:AMZN) Prime Air delivery drones rely on 8 helicopter-like propellers.
Google's drones lower products to the ground using a tether featuring "a little bundle of electronics" at the end. The electronics detect when a package hits the ground, and then detach and are pulled back up.
The Atlantic doesn't shy away from the fact plenty of reliability and safety questions remain, as do nuts-and-bolts hardware issues such as improving battery life and reducing noise. Google is said to be "in the very early days of developing a mature, reliable detect-and-avoid system."
Wing is headed by MIT roboticist Nick Roy. Over the last 12 months, Google has bought leading military robot maker Boston Dynamics, solar-powered drone maker Titan Aerospace (meant to further Google's Web connectivity and imagery efforts), A.I. tech developer DeepMind, and hardware engineering/design firm Gecko Design.