Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Google experiments challenge Amazon's delivery plans

Amazon.com´s delivery drone, Prime Air, is still being tested, but may get some company in the skies, as Google´s X laboratory division is also working on an unmanned system.
Amazon.com's delivery drone, Prime Air, is still being tested, but may get some company in the skies, as Google's X laboratory division is also working on an unmanned system. Associated Press, file
Google Inc. is taking its rivalry against Amazon.com Inc. to the skies.

The search-engine giant's X laboratory division is developing drones that can handle deliveries, a move that would be in direct competition with the e-commerce company, which is testing its own shipment service using self-flying machines. Google's initiative, called Project Wing, aims to use drones to drop off goods quickly, the Mountain View, Calif.-based company said in an e-mail Thursday night. It will take a few years before the system is ready for commercial use, Google said.

The company said it had been exploring the use of unmanned aircraft for about two years. Its disclosure of the project put it in a race with Amazon, which announced late last year its plans to test drones to deliver goods. The companies are increasingly competing as they target other firms as well as consumers to sustain growth.

"Self-flying vehicles could open up entirely new approaches to moving goods - including options that are cheaper, faster, less wasteful, and more environmentally sensitive than what's possible today," Google said in a statement. "Before we develop our system, we want to go out and learn about more situations in which aerial delivery could help people in their daily lives and jobs."

The venture is another investment in long-term projects through Google's secretive X lab. The unit has also produced Glass, the computerized eyewear, and is developing self-driving cars and sensor-enabled contact lenses.

This year, Google's researchers tested Project Wing in Australia. The company tested drones with two Queensland farmers, who were delivered items including radios, dog treats, and cattle vaccines.

The technology envisioned by Google and Amazon is at least several years away from U.S. approval. The companies want to fly drones without a pilot who can seize the controls in an emergency. The Federal Aviation Administration in a Nov. 7 outline of its plans for drone use said it would not permit such flights. Google has not requested an exemption allowing it to test its unmanned aircraft in the United States, Les Dorr, a spokesman for the FAA, said.

"We're aware of the project and we've had discussions with them," Dorr said. The agency, which expects to propose rules for commercial drones weighing less than 55 pounds this year, has only approved such flights in the Arctic regions of Alaska.

Brian Womack and Alan Levin Bloomberg News
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