News Column

Google unveils secret drone project

August 28, 2014

By Brandon Bailey, San Jose Mercury News



Aug. 28--MOUNTAIN VIEW -- Escalating an aerial dogfight between leading Internet companies, Google said Thursday that it has been working on a secret project to build unmanned flying drones, which could one day deliver packages to consumers or supplies to people in remote areas.

The project was unveiled Thursday by Google's X division, a unit of the giant Internet company that is also working on so-called "moonshot" projects like self-driving cars and contact lenses that can monitor a wearer's glucose levels.

"Self-flying vehicles could open up entirely new approaches to moving things around -- including options that are faster, cheaper, less wasteful, and more environmentally sensitive than the way we do things today," Google said in a statement.

Amazon has been conducting indoor tests of delivery drones, and it recently asked U.S. officials for permission to perform more testing outdoors. Google, which launched its project two years ago, said it conducted outdoor tests in Australia this month.

Facebook also has an interest in drones. This spring, both Google and Facebook bought smaller companies that build unmanned flying vehicles, saying they hoped to use them to beam Internet radio signals to remote parts of the world.

But Google said its Project Wing is aimed at transporting physical goods. In the Australian tests, Google said it delivered candy bars, dog treats and other supplies by attaching them to a remotely piloted drone, which flew to a nearby cattle field and lowered the items on the end of a cable to farmers on the ground.

Google and Amazon are competing fiercely in the business of Internet retail and delivery. Each company wants consumers to use its online sites for shopping, and each is building rapid ground-delivery services in major U.S. cities.

But while Amazon says it hopes to provide drone deliveries next year, Google is being more cautious.

"It's going to be a few years before we have a system ready -- this has much more in common with the self-driving car than with the remote-controlled planes you might see in the park on the weekend," a spokeswoman said. Google said its engineers need to work on safety protocols, precise navigation and noise-reduction.

Legal and privacy issues are also far from resolved. But some experts say unmanned aircraft could see wide use in the future. "They could do everything from water your house plants to watering your cattle," Gartner tech analyst Jeff Vining said earlier this year.

Google touted the potential for deliveries Thursday. "Think of the mom stuck at home with two sick kids, the hiker who's met a poisonous snake, or the farmer out in the field with a sick animal," the company said. It added that drone deliveries "could also open up new models for sharing goods rather than owning them. Who needs a power drill for more than eight minutes a year?"

Contact Brandon Bailey at 408-920-5022; follow him at Twitter.com/BrandonBailey

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(c)2014 the San Jose Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.)

Visit the San Jose Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.) at www.mercurynews.com

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Source: San Jose Mercury News (CA)


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