Game of drones: Google readies Project Wing against Amazon's Prime Air

Game of drones: Google readies Project Wing against Amazon's Prime Air

Summary: The competition between Amazon Prime and Google Shopping Express is about to really takeoff.


As the concept of the sharing economy continues to take hold of the tech world, delivery-themed startups are at the forefront.

Presently, this is more along the lines of delivering food, groceries, and other services. Think Instacart, Postmates, and now even Uber with its various bike messenger and corner store beta offerings.

But in the grand scheme of things, these guys are all small potatoes compared to the brand recognition, customer bases, and just overall grasp of Google and Amazon.

Each of these tech giants already have their own delivery entries (Amazon Prime and Google Shopping Express).

But even these programs are poised for complete revolution as we know them.

Last November, Amazon unveiled a Prime-branded drone delivery program -- much to the simultaneous amazement and cautious fear of consumers everywhere.

Dubbed Prime Air, the technology is much more than a simple dream but not quite ready for action yet. Nevertheless, the Seattle-headquartered company is aiming for takeoff within a few years.

And when Prime Air lifts off, Google plans to be right there to go head-to-head.

Enter Project Wing, the latest development to break free from the secretive Google X lab (where Google Glass was developed).

Revealed by The Atlantic's Alexis Madrigal on Thursday, Google's entry into this outlandish game of drones has been in development for two years. If and when this thing launches, it is boasted to be able to deliver products across town "within a minute or two."

It's debatable what we might end up seeing on the market (or the roads and skies) first: Google's self-driving car or these automated aircrafts.

Project Wing's lofty delivery goals also remain to be proven, but the business potential and repercussions are almost endless.

Needless to say, in the weeks, months, and years to come, we can prepare ourselves for continuous debates about what this means for air safety, the stability of mom-and-pop shops versus these behemoth sellers, data privacy, and inevitably what these firestorms always come back to these days: Google's plans to take over the world. Per usual.

For a closer look at Google's experiments with drone deliveries, check out the clip from our sister site CNET below:

Topics: Mobility, Amazon, Google, Hardware, Tech Industry

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  • Viral marketing

    I'm quite sure the Amazon thing is a viral marketing campaign. If you work the numbers, no one would really consider it a practical concept.
    Buster Friendly
    • I seriously doubt any of these concepts will get off the ground.

      Pun intended.

      It's one thing to fly an R/C Aircraft in visual sight in an open field or an airport, 100% different to fly an unmanned drone through a city basically "blind"
      • Not really

        As anyone who's written an AI pilot for a flight sim will tell you, it's vastly easier to create AI that operates in 3d airspace than on the ground. If you can get robotic cars driving unmanaged while accurately detecting and navigating their environment, it is substantially easier to do with aircraft. Sure, you need to accurately measure air pressure and windspeed but that's not difficult with sensors, and redundant gyros can ensure the vehicle can dynamically adjust for positional changes not predicted by air pressure sensors.

        No, the problem here is not the science, the technology, the processing power of inboard computers or the accuracy of sensors, the only thing holding this up is regulation of airspace in the name of 'safety' at the behest of existing airlines, aircraft manufacturers and logistics companies. The only way this will work is if these systems are above criticism by being utterly perfect, which means massive over engineering and years of testing with 100% success and getting the public to demand the FAA and similar will allow their operation. But you know the first accident (even if that's caused by someone deliberately flying an RC craft into a drone) will have the whole thing shut down and pushed back for a decade.
        • You're overlooking a few things, TrevorX

          One, robot cars and airborne drones are two vastly different vehicles. You can't equate the relative success of self driving cars to mean that robot aircraft will be equally as safe should something fail. A robot car need only deal with 2 dimensions, X and Y, while a drone has to deal with X,Y, and Z, so far more complex. Do you really see that drone operating in a city?

          I'm well aware of the 3d space in which drones would operate as I fly R/C aircraft, both planes and helicopters at different points. (that's one of my points in arguing against Google Glass while driving when someone says "fighter pilots use them all the time")

          The parameters in which each operate are different in that there are many more factors in play that can cause a drone to fail over that of a car, forget someone flying an R/C aircraft into one. (They can crash one into anything already if they wanted.)

          To "blame" these drone's many safety shortcomings on that of "existing airlines, aircraft manufacturers and logistics companies" is to claim that those safety issues don't or can't exists, and that should failure happen the chances of human injury is non existent.

          The ramifications of an accident are also very different. If a robot car is in an accident, the accident is usually contained in the area of the accident. Should one many self flying drones get into an accident with a helicopter or something, the accident would likely involve a building full of people below.

          Should a car fail it will stop. Should a drone fail it will drop. That's the issue they haven't figured out yet.
      • Agreed, Farrel

        The drone thingy is great for rural. Traffic is lower also, so getting drones to fly low in those areas, would be a boon for everyone, and would create jobs. But in cities, it won't work well, even though for example in NYC, traffic is so bad, it takes you hours just to go a few miles. Too much congestion, is no good for drones. The bike delivery system might be better for cities, and maybe some combo approach where a drone or helicopter drops off packages besides being used for passengers, could be profitable for everyone. But even there, helicopter would be better than drone.

        Frankly, someone's unthinking, to not notice where drones would be effective, and where not. Thoughtlessness is a common feature of top brass these days, witness the Win8 fiasco, which moves the cheese to the outhouse. We can't afford that same thoughtlessness in shipping, but it's already started (use of USPS as the last leg of shipping by FedEx and UPS), so what else can you expect?
        • Hahaha

          Oh wow, unthinking huh? Thoughtlessness?You are criticising others; no, you are criticising the strategies of multinational corporations with the implicit assumption that you clearly believe you possess superior insight and thinking, yet you can barely construct a coherent sentence. Here's a couple of hints: thoughtlessness doesn't mean what you think it does and commas don't belong anywhere near where you're putting them.

          As for your tragically flawed observations (why am I even bothering?) cities with heavy congestion are the perfect environment for this sort of delivery system. Why would *flying drones* be in any way inconvenienced by foot/ground traffic? They #@$&ing FLY! The benefits to such logistics efforts are absolutely enormous. Do you think high-rise buildings in densely populated cities won't be willing to install dedicated drone delivery bays? Hell, as a tennant I'd just knock out a window to allow direct delivery, building management be damned!

          But maybe I should have taken your comment with a hefty dose of sarcasm - your handle is certainly accurate...
          • Fail

            Personal attacks are a complete and total fail.
            Buster Friendly
          • personal attacks aside he's got a point

            Thinking that some random guy knows more about the feasability of this project than 2 multinationals filled with the world's best engineers is kinda ridiculous.
          • So your ratio of win to fail is?

            Given the number of personal attacks you have made on this website when people don't agree with your, err, unique? point of view, that must mean 90% of your comments fail before you've even typed them. Good to bear that in mind.

            By the by, I didn't attack [whoever (s)he is] personally. I attacked numerous facets of the post:
            1) The abhorrent grammar, mangled English and appalling sentence structure (which speaks to the usefulness of the comments made by brainout, because if he can't even manage to write coherently nor have a basic grasp of the meaning of the words he is using, the value of *anything* he writes approaches zero)
            2) He states that various multinationals and their heads lack a grasp of market realities (I'm paraphrasing, because the actual words he uses don't make any sense in the context they've been used in), and suggests he understands these realities better
            3) I actually suggested I might have been off the mark if the comment was meant to be sarcastic. Reading below, it seems clear that it wasn't.
            4) The moniker 'brainout' suggests that this person's brain either isn't there or is not active; either way I found that fitting. That's not a personal attack, it is drawing a logical conclusion from the facts available.

            So yes, I attacked the post and its contents, but I did not attack 'brainout' personally. Yes, my comments were even passionate, but they were not abusive.

            So, unfortunately, you've misconstrued what a 'personal attack' entails. Allow me to demonstrate. Here: you said: "You're narrow experience seems to be the issue here." THAT is a personal attack. You're attacking a personal attribute of an individual unrelated to the specific text of his comments. See the difference?

            By the way, you wrote 'You're' when you should have used 'Your': You're is short for 'you are'. Substitute 'you are' into your sentence and you'll notice it doesn't make any sense.

            Thanks for playing!
  • The big problem, is that UPS and FedEx are using USPS, in the States

    and USPS, won't deliver to your door, if you live in a condo, apartment complex, or often even if in a gated community. There are many complaints against FedEx 'SmartPost', which uses USPS for the last (to-the-door) delivery 'leg', and UPS does some version of the same thing. Just Google on 'SmartPost', if you want to see how long these complaints have been levied, and how deaf FedEx has been, to them.

    Sadly, Amazon Prime now uses these combined horrific partnerships, so that lately many Prime members (me included) have complained about the USPS faux delivery or refusal to deliver Prime packages to our doors. We have to complain repeatedly, and we are promised extensions on our Prime Membership, but we don't want extensions: we want our stuff delivered to our door. Which, still isn't happening. So then why use Prime? There will be a huge loss in members, if Amazon doesn't listen and do something to restore service.

    Drone 'technology' doesn't solve the problem. The problem, is to stop using USPS. So if Amazon learns that lesson soon -- which I'm hoping it will, as Prime member complaints are now six months old -- if Amazon learns that lesson, it will either stop the drones or find another last-leg carrier or allow US to pick our carriers.

    Google, like MSFT, never listens or learns anything from complaints, so I give it no credence.
  • Pizza - Perishables

    So, I need to invent a "hotbox" and a "coldbox" that conforms to both Amazon and Google form-factors.

    What about windsheer? Nothing like getting a pizza with all the cheese slid onto one half because the driver was taking corners too fast ;)