Updated at 4:45 PM on Sept. 8, 2016: Project Wing delivery drones will be flying Chipotle burritos to students at Virginia Tech. Read story
The United States government has given the OK for Google’s Alphabet Project Wing delivery drones to begin testing in the United States. These tests will “help regulators answer critical safety and human factors questions for UAV cargo delivery operations.”
The Project Wing drone delivery service, which was conceptualized inside Google’s experimental labs, will be tested at one of the FAA drone test sites. The announcement did not specify which test site will be chosen. This is all part of a new push by the US National Science Foundation, which is spending over $35 million on drone research and testing over the next five years.
Project Wing will be allowed to test beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) capabilities, one of the major roadblocks for drone delivery services, and develop an airspace management system to ensure safe integration of drones in airspace under 400 feet.
David Vos, leader of Google’s Project Wing, said in 2015 that the company’s delivery drones will be “up and running in 2017.”
Project Wing has been side-stepping FAA regulations, thanks to a deal with NASA, and flying its delivery drones over private property. While this new FAA approval isn’t a green light for drone delivery in the US, it certainly seems like a giant step forward.
Alphabet’s Project Wing delivery drones, which were first revealed in 2014, take off vertically and fly like a fixed-wing plane. The idea is for these drones to deliver packages faster than ordinary delivery methods and cut down on pollution. Watch the video above for more technical information about the Project Wing delivery drones.
The Project Wing approval is the latest in a string of events that indicate the drone delivery industry is moving forward throughout the world. In late July 2015, Amazon partnered with the UK government to test its Prime Air drone delivery service. Amazon said the partnership with the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) will allow it to explore three key aspects of drone delivery:
- Flights beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) in rural and suburban areas
- Testing obstacle avoidance technology
- Flights where one person operates multiple autonomous drones
Amazon Prime Air delivery drones weigh less than 55 pounds (25 kg), are battery-powered, can operate beyond line of sight of 10 miles, fly under 400 feet and travel over 50 MPH. The service claims to be able to deliver packages up to 5 pounds to customers in 30 minutes or less using these drones.
Project Wing also has some stiff competition in the US from Flirtey, the Reno, Nevada-based startup that partnered with 7-Eleven for the first FAA-approved home drone delivery in the US. A Flirtey drone, over two flights, autonomously delivered Slurpees, a chicken sandwich, donuts, hot coffee and candy to a family about a mile away from a 7-Eleven. Watch the historic home drone delivery below.
Flirtey has also made three other historic drone deliveries in the US. On July 17, 2015 Flirtey completed the first FAA-approved drone delivery by flying medical supplies from the Lonesome Pine Airport to the Remote Area Hospital in Wise County, Virginia, which is one of the most impoverished area’s in the country. Flirtey also completed the first FAA-approved urban drone delivery in US history when it delivered a package to a residential area in Hawthorne, Nevada. And in June 2016 Flirtey successfully completed the first ship-to-shore drone delivery in US history, delivering medical supplies from a vessel to an onshore medical camp in Cape May, New Jersey. Watch the ship-to-shore drone delivery below.