The U.S. has a general no-no umbrella policy when it comes to flying commercial unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), as per the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) — but Google has found a loophole regarding the development of its own delivery drone program: NASA.
According to The Guardian, Google (via the Google X research lab) has been testing out its fleet of delivery UAS on privatized land owned by NASA, and has been given a special waiver to do it: more specifically, a Certificate of Authorization (COA) — which can be issued by the FAA or, in the case of Google X's program, NASA.
According to the FAA, COAs can be doled out to civil operations or non-governmental operations, if the agency that requests the waiver is "[performing] commercial operations in low-risk, controlled environments." (Which, for all intents and purposes, Google is doing.)
Currently, "public agencies" – i.e. federally funded organizations – are allowed to operate UAS without possession of a COA, but Google is a private multinational corporation. According to the Guardian, businesses like Google (or, for a concrete, IRL example, Amazon) are given 333s – which also serve as a form of exemption – with one caveat: they can be made public.
So what makes Google different? We're not exactly sure. As a recently acquired copy of a Space Act Agreement between Google X and NASA states, "NASA and Google will conduct joint field tests of UAS ... where NASA may issue certificates of approvals to operate."
Very little is known about Project Wing, though last year, researchers faced some setbacks regarding blueprinting of the typified structure, including a faulty wing design, which caused them to scrap a model.
"It's years from a product, but it's sort of the first prototype that we want to stand behind," said Nicholas Roy, founder of Project Wing, in an introductory video about the program posted by Google and NASA's Artificial Intelligence Lab.
Watch Google's intro video to Project Wing below.