Alphabet, the parent company to Google and several former Google subsidiaries, has begun testing drone delivery, but not in the same way we've seen from Amazon or some other companies. The tests in Australia show off Alphabet's unique system for drone delivery—packages will be lowered down by a string.
Alphabet's string delivery comes out of focus groups done back when its Wing drones were still in their earliest stages of development. The California multinational conglomerate, founded in a corporate restructuring of Google in October 2015, found that people were skeptical of actually touching or coming into with the drones delivering their goods, mainly out of concern that they would injured by its propellers.
A then-Google engineer developed the package drop system as a way to work around the problem of interacting with a drone. In its earliest iterations, the Wing's string , but Google's Australian test shows it has clearly evolved. An employee of a business can now take a Wing bag and put it onto a hook which is winched up to the drone.
As the tests expand into more myriad categories, like fast food and pharmacies, Wing is also reflecting on what its learned about delivery in its recent tests. In a blog post, co-lead James Ryan Burgess :
Our drones are able to deliver items almost anywhere — backyards, public parks, farmlands or even fire-breaks. But we need to train our systems to reliably identify safe and convenient delivery locations. This is more complicated than it looks. We have to incorporate customer preferences — e.g. many of our testers would like packages delivered to backyards so they're not visible from the road, or near kitchens so food items can be unpacked quickly. And we have to be ready to accommodate changing conditions at the delivery location.
While our unmanned traffic management (UTM) platform lets us pre-plan a flight route, the sensors on our aircraft are responsible for identifying obstacles that might appear during a flight or delivery, like a car parked in an unexpected spot, or outdoor furniture that's been moved. The more test deliveries we do, exposing the sensors on our aircraft to new delivery locations, the smarter our aircraft's algorithms will one day become at picking a safe spot for deliveries.
While Alphabet has already tested drones as a burrito delivery system, there's still apparently more to learn. Beyond being a great piece of marketing, Burgess says the company still has to "make sure our technology fits in smoothly into their kitchen operations, as their staff have to juggle many orders at once to ensure that every customer is served fresh, hot food in a timely fashion." There's also the question of timing, how early drones will let both businesses and customers know of their arrival.
Alphabet is one of a number of companies working towards perfecting drone delivery. Amazon had its first successful drone delivery in the United States earlier this year. UPS has released video of a drone launching out of one of its brown delivery trucks in a small town in Florida. DHL began testing drone delivery in Germany in 2016.
Drone delivery currently remains illegal in the United States, all stateside testing is done with clearance from the FAA. That's one of the reasons why companies are looking outside of the United States for the experimental burrito drops, and why countries are starting to use drone testing sites as lures for business. These companies want widespread drone delivery as soon as possible.
Correction: This article previously referred to Project Wing as project of Google's. It is an innovation lab within Alphabet.