Google X, the Internet giant's advanced research lab, has been secretly running Project Wing for two years. Earlier this month, it conducted 30 test flights in Australia this summer using its single-wing prototype, the culmination of the first phase of the project, include
The drones, 5 feet wide and 2 1/2 feet tall, operate on four propellers that can adjust positions for different stages of flight. Packages -- including the ones filled with candy bars, water, cattle vaccines, radios and even dog treats sent to two farmers in Queensland, Australia -- fit snugly into a gap in the wing.
The testing was conducted in Australia where commercial drone use is far more permissive than in the U.S., although rules are moving in that direction. The Federal Aviation Administration is considering revising the restrictions, and in June approved a drone flight over land in Alaska. Amazon has requested permission to test its drone delivery program in the U.S.
Google says its drones would eventually operate along programmed routes at altitudes of 130 to 200 feet.
Logistics, safety and privacy issues, along with the FAA's regulatory hurdles, mean drones won't replace FedEx anytime soon. But if Google and Amazon have anything to say about it, it won't be that long, either.