Despite the thorniness of FAA regulations (or lack thereof), Google recently revealed that it too has a drone delivery program underway. Project Wing has been in the works for a couple of years as part of the undercover Google[X] lab, and has been generating lots of buzz since Thursday’s announcement. The question remains, though: will Google be able to overcome the FAA? And beyond that, how will it fair in competition against Amazon?
The biggest immediate difference between the Amazon and Google’s deliver drones are the crafts themselves. Amazon would likely use a relatively small quadcopter device, while Google’s vehicle is bigger and burlier—a winged airplane/helicopter hybrid with four rotors that flies with the authority of something more like a traditional plane. After a couple years of development, Google decided it was ready to test out its drones, so they went to Australia to escape the watchful eye of the FAA.
Another difference between Amazon and Google is intent. We all know what Amazon will deliver, but Google has a loftier goal: to help the environment and people in need. Just at Google’s Project Loon wants to bring internet everywhere and to everyone, with the stated goal of improving education, healthcare, and business for people in remote places (and perhaps the unstated goal of harvesting the personal information of all those people), Project Wing will enable the delivery of goods to similar populations.
Project Wing was guided by an MIT roboticist and Astro Teller, and now that it’s gotten off the ground, it will develop and test safety features, working on noise reduction, and addressing privacy issues. Those issues are the ones the FAA has identified as problematic, hence its current prohibition on commercial drones. One of the most interesting aspects of the project is that it confirms something people have thought for a long time: that Google[X] lab, an ambitious research lab Google has kept largely under wraps, has been working on drone delivery. On the one hand, of course it has, but the lab was created in 2010 largely to work on the self-driving car (and later, Google Glass). On the other hand, you never entirely know what Google has up its sleeve, particularly after acquiring all those robotics companies. As the Atlantic’s Alexis Madrigal puts it, “Google doesn’t just want to organize all the world’s information. Google wants to organize all the world.”