Of course, Google is working on a secret drone delivery program. How could it not be when its rival Amazon is getting ready to deliver packages via drones in a few years? All of that remained speculation, until now.
Reports on Google's two-year-old drone project first surfaced on The Atlantic, which says that Google recently launched test flights for a self-flying vehicle that delivered a package of dog food to farmers in Warwick, Australia, where drone testing laws are not as stringent as those in the United States.
Dubbed Project Wing, the project was conceived out of Google X, the Internet company's semi-top-secret laboratory for developing its most innovative projects, including Google Glass and Google's self-driving cars, which is up for testing in public roads in California.
When Google co-founder Sergey Brin first launched Project Wing in 2012, the initial focus was to come up with a drone that delivers defibrillators to heart attack victims in a few minutes. In the long run, however, Google envisions its "tail sitters," which sit on the ground with the propellers poised upwards, to be used in disaster relief operations to deliver small items such as food, batteries and medicines to victims in far-flung places.
"Even just a few of these, being able to shuttle nearly continuously could service a very large number of people in an emergency situation," Astro Teller, Google X's Captain of Moonshots, said in an interview with BBC.
Eventually, however, Google's drones, which travel much faster than traditional quadcopters at 10 meters per second, could also be used to deliver items bought by consumers through online shopping, a concept that isn't really new since Amazon introduced its drone delivery program in the works in November.
"Throughout history, major shifts in how we move goods from place to place have led to new opportunities for economic growth and generally made consumers' lives easier," says Google in a statement. "From steam ships to the railroads, from the postal service to delivery services like FedEx and DHL, speed has reshaped society not only with greater convenience but also by making more goods accessible to more people."
Google's drone looks like something that could be put right into "The Hunger Games," with its gleaming white body propelled by four electrically-driven propellers taking off vertically without a runway but straightening out into a horizontal flight pattern.
Unlike military drones, which are controlled by ground pilots, the aircraft has a preprogrammed route and can hover over its destination once it reaches it. Inside the body of the vehicle is what Google engineers call the "egg," which is lowered to the ground via a high-grade fishing line to drop the package. This little device is equipped with sensors that can detect when the package is dropped and sends signals back to the body to crank it back up.
Google commissioned robotics expert Nick Roy of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to head Project Wing. Roy has never personally seen the drone deliver a package during testing. He was always at the takeoff point, watching the delivery from a screen.
"Sergey has been bugging me, asking 'What is it like? Is it actually a nice experience to get this?' and I'm like, 'Dude, I don't know. I'm looking at the screen," Roy says.