(Adds details from announcement, analyst comment)
By Alexei Oreskovic
SAN FRANCISCO Aug 28 Google Inc
is developing airborne drones capable of
flying on their own and delivering anything from candy to
medicine, the Internet company said on Thursday.
The effort, which Google calls Project Wing, marks the
company's latest expansion beyond its Web-based origins and
could help Google break into lucrative markets such as commerce
and package delivery, ratcheting up the competition with
Google, the world's largest Internet search engine, said it
will take years of development to create a service with multiple
vehicles flying multiple deliveries per day.
An early version of the drone, which Google showcased in a
video on its website, has a 1.5 meter-(yard-)wide wingspan and
is capable of flying pre-programmed routes.
"These planes have much more in common with the Google
self-driving car than the remote-controlled airplanes people
fly in parks on weekends," Google said on its website, referring
to the company's test fleet of automobiles that use sensors and
radars to navigate city streets and freeways on their own.
The drone Google showed in the video Thursday was equipped
with rotors to allow for vertical takeoff and landing, as well
as a fixed wing for plane-like flying. The drone flew about 40
meters above the treeline, Google said, and dropped a package of
chocolate bars to a farmer in Queensland, Australia.
Google spokesman Ray Gobberg said it was too soon to discuss
specific business plans for the delivery drones, but the company
said on its website that self-flying vehicles could offer a
cheaper, faster and less wasteful way to move goods.
Google rival Amazon.com Inc announced plans last year to use
aerial delivery drones for a service called "Prime Air."
"Local delivery of products is the next battlefront," said
Sameet Sinha, an analyst with B. Riley & Co. "Google has had its
eyes on e-commerce, basically trying to get around Amazon."
Google has partnered with local retailers in San Francisco,
Los Angeles and New York for its Shopping Express service, which
allows consumers to order goods online and have them delivered
to their doorstep on the same day.
While Google has been quietly developing its aerial drone
project since late 2011, the company will now focus on teaching
the vehicles to safely navigate around each other, to reduce the
noise of the vehicles and to refine the delivery capability such
that a package can be delivered to a spot the size of a
Google's Gobberg said the company has briefed the Federal
Aviation Administration on the project and has been updating the
agency. Gobberg said Google has done some "small scale research
flights" in the United States but hoped to talk more with the
agency to determine specific locations for testing.
In 2012, Congress required the FAA to establish a road map
for the broader use of drones. The FAA has allowed limited use
of drones in the United States for surveillance, law
enforcement, atmospheric research and other applications.
(Reporting by Alexei Oreskovic; Editing by Grant McCool and Ken