You may remember during their last Google I/O conference that a protester started shouting: “You all work for a totalitarian company that builds machines that kill people!” He also ranted about “killer robots”.
There was no real context to that statement. Maybe a reference to the company’s interest in robotics? Perhaps a metaphor for the potential “killing power” of technology, ala the Android mascot? Or it could be a reference to Project Wings, a top secret (but still speculated about) effort of the mysterious Google X branch.
Rumors about a possible set of drones have existed for awhile, though they haven’t been nearly as juicy as the ones about artificial intelligence, renewable energy or self driving cars.
Now, it turns out the rumors were true. Project Wing is the development of small, remotely controlled flying drones that Google has just started testing.
For two years, they have been working on Project Wing, and for two years they have tried to keep it under wraps. But their reasoning behind their development is now clear, likely to combat concerns about military potential.
Google has stated that the use of Project Wing drones will be humanitarian aid. They hope to drop supplies like food, medicine, building materials and water to areas affected by devastating tragedies like natural disasters, or civil unrest.
Choosing Queensland, Australia as their testing ground – the laws governing drone use are much more loose on the continent – they dropped supplies to farms in remote areas of the region. The tests were successful.
The drones are rather small. Operated by four propellers, they have a wing span of just under 5 feet. Which makes them affordable to operate, though only able to carry small loads at any given time.
They remind me a lot of Amazon’s short-lived publicity drone stunt for deliveries. Only Google’s version are better manufactured, and with much loftier dreams than moving products through an inner city.
Not that they aren’t still thinking along those lines. They hope to eventually move these drones to consumer needs, and use it for shipping. That just doesn’t appear to be the primary reasoning behind their development.
Given the laws against drone use, FAA regulations, and the cost of operation, however, this all seems still very much experimental.