Despite difficulties in designing a reliable enough drone capable of supporting an efficient delivery service, Google’s parent company Alphabet says it’s intent on seeing the ambitious project through to completion.
It has its eye on creating platform called the “Wing Marketplace” where customers can order items from retailers and restaurants and have them delivered by drone within a few minutes for a $6 delivery fee, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Besides trying out drone deliveries of burritos for students at Virginia Tech, Alphabet’s drone team has also been in talks with Whole Foods Market and Domino’s Pizza, among others, though discussions with Starbucks regarding coffee delivery are believed to have been recently abandoned.
But, as the Journal pointed out in its expansive piece on Alphabet’s drone project, there are still plenty of hurdles to overcome before it has any hope of launching a viable sky-based delivery service.
Work on its drone program is taking place under the umbrella of Alphabet’s X division where its more outlandish ideas are developed until they’re either launched or unceremoniously ditched.
Ongoing challenges include drone design (fixed wing or multi-rotor copter), how to launch, how to fly, how to land at delivery addresses, whether to land at delivery addresses (or lower the package using a tether), creating software for accurate and safe flights, and so on.
Engineers have been through a number of prototypes, dubbed the Auk, the Bauk, the Super Bauk, and the Chickadee, but despite their impressive names, none of the designs have worked out.
The current version (name unknown) resembles “a catamaran,” and features a 5-foot wing, two rotors, and a fin. It takes off vertically and glides horizontally, though former X employees suggest the design is far from perfect. One of them told the Journal that during tests, the machine “repeatedly crashed, wandered off, lost power, or tried to land in trees.”
Google said in 2015 that it planned to launch a drone delivery service some time next year. Considering the current difficulties apparently facing the project, it seems reasonable to conclude that it’ll be some time before Alphabet gets a viable drone delivery service off the ground.
Still, it may draw inspiration from Domino’s Pizza in New Zealand, which, after partnering with U.S. drone specialist Flirtey, launched a meal delivery service just last month. Meanwhile, Amazon is continuing to invest heavily in its Prime Air drone delivery program.
Last month it was suggested that Alphabet was scaling back investment in Project Wing, but in this week’s Journal piece a spokesperson insisted the company is “wholeheartedly committed” to delivery drones, with more tests planned for 2017.