The Web giant’s drone project is, as you might expect, in the hands of its Google X research facility, made famous by its work on things like Google Glass and its self-driving car.
Whereas Amazon envisages ferrying items such as books and toys between its fulfillment centers and customers’ homes, Google suggests its drones might one day be used to carry vital supplies to areas hit by natural disasters where roads may have been rendered impassable.
“Even just a few of these, being able to shuttle nearly continuously, could service a very large number of people in an emergency situation,” Google X’s Astro Teller told the BBC.
However, the Mountain View company didn’t rule out the possibility that its drones could also be used to deliver items to shoppers at some point, with the idea that delivery times could be drastically reduced.
Dubbed ‘Project Wing,’ Google’s UAV has a wingspan of about 1.5 meters (4.9 feet) and weighs around 8.5 kg (18.7 Ib).
According to The Atlantic, which was given special access to a recent test flight, the machine is part helicopter and part plane, with its “tail sitter” design enabling it to take off vertically before rotating to a horizontal position for flying to a destination.
The aircraft’s nose contains a GPS unit while the tail holds a camera pointed toward the ground. Four propellers allow it hover in one spot while it delivers its payload via a winch and tether.
The flying machine can be programmed to fly to a particular location and so needs no remote operator once it’s airborne, engineers told The Atlantic. The flying tests have been taking place in Australia, mainly because the country’s rules regarding operation of such unmanned vehicles are more relaxed.
Amazon, too, has been testing its drones outside of the US, though the e-commerce company is currently trying to obtain permission from the Federal Aviation Administration to conduct trial flights close to its base in Seattle.
While both Google and Amazon appear to be making some serious progress with their respective drone-based projects, incorporating them into their businesses in the US could be some way off, with plenty of regulatory hoops still to be cleared.