It’s not just Amazon: Google is developing delivery drones too

Amazon isn’t the only company putting serious thought into shipping packages via drone: Google is two years into building and testing a small hybrid between a plane and a helicopter that delivers items to people by dropping them down on a line.

An extensive article in The Atlantic details just how mature the technology is: Google partner Unmanned Systems Australia is already testing the drones in Australia, where unmanned aerial vehicle use is not so heavily controlled. The drones don’t land during deliveries. Instead, they quickly lower the package down on a line. The drone then pulls the line back up and flies away.

The Project Wing drone. Photo courtesy of Google.

The Project Wing drone. Photo courtesy of Google.

The project, which reportedly dozens of Google employees are assigned to, stems from the secretive Google X lab. It’s not yet ready for use by customers, and U.S. law would currently prohibit it, but The Atlantic reports that Google is confident the technology will be capable of making deliveries when the right time comes. MIT roboticist Nick Roy has shaped the project for the last two years, but is now returning to MIT. Dave Vos, a drone entrepreneur and 20-year veteran in the space, will replace him.

Google’s interest in drones means another deep and powerful wallet will be lobbying for their wide use in the U.S., where drone operators and the Federal Aviation Administration have been sparring over current rules that prohibit the commercial use of the vehicles. Google has been expanding its Shopping Express service, which could someday take on Amazon with same day deliveries. Like Amazon, Google understands that drones could further cut delivery times, not to mention gas use and reliance on human drivers.