Government regulations may be keeping Google X's futuristic drones on the ground at this point, but likely not for long given the race the search company is in with Amazon to make drone delivery a reality.
Google's drone program, dubbed Project Wing, has a primary goal of disaster relief, and while that certainly sounds great, there are a number of obstacles that the company will face before the drones can take off. Many are worried these obstacles will put the U.S. behind when it comes to drone technology.
"This is the first time in history that the United States is not leading the industry in an aviation-related technology," said Brendan Schulman, a lawyer at Kramer Levin. Schulman represents a number of clients that are challenging the Federal Aviation Administration's decision to ban drone use in the U.S.
Drone use is currently illegal in the United States and the technology has remained largely untested, especially when it comes to populated areas. Not only that, but even if the technology was legal, it is still unproven as to whether using drones would be a cost-effective solution for delivering everyday goods.
Despite this, Google and Amazon and other companies are already exploring a number of uses, including disaster relief, crop dusting, and monitoring transportation systems, such as railroad tracks.
The federal government, under the auspices of NASA, has begun developing a drone traffic-management program designed as a sort of air traffic control system for drones and other low-flying aircraft. This system, like the one for planes, monitors things like weather and traffic.
While Google did not explicitly blame the FAA's drone regulations for its decision to test Project Wing in Australia, a Google spokesperson did hint the company would be lobbying on the issue.
"We often meet with regulators to explain how our technology works -- we briefed the FAA on our project a few months ago," said the spokesperson. "We will continue to update them on our work and our technology as it progresses. We'd be happy to participate in discussions about how the regulations they are drafting might affect innovation in this space in the future."
Google is not the only company being affected by the FAA's laws. Amazon recently revealed a drone program in which drones would be used to deliver packages, provided customers were willing to pay for it. This program is called Amazon Prime Air and Amazon says customers could use it to have packages delivered within half an hour.
For drone use to take off, FAA regulations are not the only thing that will have to evolve.
"There is the technology piece and then there is the public acceptance piece, and both have to evolve," said Parimal H. Kopardekar, a principal investigator for NASA.