Google Project Wing to introduce drone deliveries by 2017

Google’s parent company, Alphabet, has revealed plans to launch drone deliveries in 2017

Project Wing, the drone delivery service from Google’s parent company Alphabet, will launch commercially in 2017, the executive in charge of the project has announced.

David Vos, the leader for Alphabet’s Project Wing, said on Monday that the company is in talks with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in the US about setting up an air traffic control system for unmanned aerial vehicles.

The system will use mobile and internet technology to coordinate the drones at altitudes of up to 500ft (152m), with the aim of having a commercial business up and running in 2017, he told an air traffic control convention near Washington.

Google first revealed details of Project Wing in 2014, when it was part of the company’s secretive research lab, Google X. It makes use of custom-designed drones that can hover vertically and winch packages down to the ground for delivery.

Google released a video of engineers testing the system in Queensland, Australia, last year, using a prototype drone with a wingspan of 1.5m and a small compartment on the bottom that could be used to transport goods.

Google's schematic of the droneGoogle’s schematic of the drone

The drone has four rotor blades, and is able to hover up to 60m above “common obstacles” while flying, to avoid colliding with power lines, trees or houses. However, the company said consumers could expect to see new vehicle types and shapes as the project unfolds.

Early reports suggested the drones would be used for disaster relief or to deliver urgently needed medical supplies. However, it is thought that the drones could also operate commercially.

This would put Project Wing in direct competition with Amazon Prime Air, which will use miniature unmanned air vehicles equipped with GPS to autonomously fly individual packages to customers’ doorsteps within 30 minutes of ordering.

To qualify for 30 minute delivery, the order must be less than 5lbs (2.26 kg), which, according to Amazon chief Jeff Bezos, includes 86 per cent of the packages Amazon currently sells.

The order must also be small enough to fit in the cargo box that the craft will carry, and the delivery location must be within a ten-mile radius of a participating Amazon order fulfillment centre.

Amazon droneThe delivery drones could transform Amazon’s already slick delivery network  Photo: AFP/Getty Images

For any of these services to take flight, they will need to get approval from the aviation authorities in the countries they intend to operate – that’s the FAA in the US and the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) in the UK.

The FAA is expected to publish final rules for commercial drone operations next year, and Mr Vos said it was “working with the small UAV community and the aviation community at large, to move things along”.

Meanwhile, the CAA has a set of rules that govern the use of drones, known as the “dronecode”. This includes an obligation to fly the aircraft “within sight” and at a maximum height of 400ft, and keep it away from aircraft, helicopters, airports and airfields.

Anyone using a drone for commercial use is also required to seek permission from the CAA. To get a licence, users have to show they are “sufficiently competent”. If the drone weighs over 20kg then it is only legal to use it in certified “danger areas”.

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