Professor Nick Roy's project on drone delivery at Google is now public

August 29, 2014

Google Joins Amazon in Dreams of Drone Delivery


Amazon, it seems, is not the only big technology company dreaming of a drone delivery service.

After two years of stealth research, Google on Thursday lifted the veil on an experimental program to deliver goods with tiny unmanned, or “drone,” aircraft that are a cross between a plane and a helicopter, according to Google. The project was detailed in a lengthy Atlantic story.

If the idea sounds familiar, that’s because online retailer Amazon announced an experimental program last year that would also deliver goods through the air.

The program, which Google is calling “Project Wing,” was led for two years by Nicholas Roy, an M.I.T. professor who took a sabbatical for the project. According to The Atlantic, Google now has dozens of people on Project Wing. They’re working on improving the technology, and may create a drone delivery app.

The Internet giant is also aggressively working on other kinds of robotics, most notably self-driving cars.

The Federal Aviation Administration has so far not been keen on the drone delivery concept. Earlier this year, it blocked an aerial delivery service proposed by a local brewery in Minnesota for ferrying beer to ice fishermen who didn’t want to come in from the cold.

A Google spokeswoman said the company has briefed the F.A.A. on its hopes for a fleet of baby helicopters, which would not be built for at least a few years.

In terms of how the actual delivery would be handled, Google said it tried the parachute approach (like in The Hunger Games), as well as shooting the package downward like a missile. They also tried landing it, but that was problematic because Google believed people might get too close to the vehicle and lose a finger to the drone’s rotors while trying to fetch their delivery.

In the end, they settled on a kind of fishing line that lowers the payload to customers from an airborne drone about 150 feet above the ground, as Google demonstrates with a package of dog food in this video.