THE BLOG

Google, Drone Delivery and Life in the Times of Exotic Robotics

12/09/2014 14:41 BST | Updated 11/11/2014 10:59 GMT

When India-born Pranav Mistry, who went on to become head of Think Tank Team and Vice President of Research at Samsung, unveiled the advanced prototype of SixthSense, a wearable, gesture-driven computing platform that can augment the physical world with digital information, at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)'s Media Lab in Boston where he enrolled as a PhD student, tech geeks across the globe were enthralled. Then came Google Glass--which is packed with Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS, speakers, camera, microphone, touchpad, etc besides being connected to your smartphone and displays all information, including data, pictures and video, collected via all these means on a tiny screen the size of your finger on the right top corner of a light, sleek glass frame. This was followed by Google Self-Driving Car project led by Sebastian Thrun, former director of the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and co-inventor of Google Street View, which may one day turn the Earth into a chauffeur-less planet. Now Project Wing, Google's drone-delivery system, is aiming to take the string of these futuristic inventions to an even higher altitude altogether.

A product of Google X, the search giant's secretive Moonshot lab which is also responsible for the Self-Driving Car; developed by Nick Roy, a roboticist at MIT who took a two-year sabbatical to lead the project; and demonstrated last week in Queensland, Australia; Wing "aspires to take another big chunk of the remaining friction out of moving things around in the world", according to Astro Teller, captain of the Moonshot project. An amalgamation of a plane and a helicopter, it can take off in a vertical position and later rotate to a horizontal position for flying and swing back to the vertical mode once it hits the destination. The 8.5 kg vehicle, also called 'tail sitter', can take off or land without a runway and while in air can keep hovering over a spot.

When Roy took up the challenge of engineering an audacious project like this, he was asked to figure out if a self-flying device can be made and programmed so that it can take off, fly fast, land anywhere and accurately drop a package from the air. Having proven the idea is feasible, Roy is going back to MIT and Dave Vos, who sold his drone software company, Athena Technologies, to Rockwell in 2008, is asked to transform Wing into a service that anyone can use.

Google initially wanted to develop drones that can be used after disasters--earthquakes, floods or extreme weather events--to deliver life-saving items like medicines to affected people in geographies where usual means of transportation cannot reach.

But concealed beneath the outer altruistic motif is Google's plan to eventually use the unmanned flying devices to deliver shopping items within 30 minutes a consumer gives an order online or by phone.

For a few years, Google co-founder Sergey Brin has been building a bigger firm within Google that will extend the internet giant's ambitions beyond searching, Net advertising, operating systems and phones to wearable digital devices, chauffer-less cars and exotic robotics, in its bid to move from just organising information for the whole world to organising the world itself.

Jeff Bezos, who is known for out-of-the-box thinking, announced plans for Amazon's Prime Air delivery drones only in late 2013.

Irrespective of who will eventually win the race to convert prototypes to a commercially viable mode of delivering consumer items, when innovations like Wing literally take wings, the world will cease to be the same.