A few years ago, the idea of drones winging their way across the sky to deliver our shopping may have seemed ludicrous. Times have changed and Google is hoping to make this our new reality more quickly than you'd think.
In an air traffic control convention near Washington, David Vos, the chief of Google's holding company Alphabet's Project Wing team told attendees the company hopes to have a commercial business up and running by 2017, as reported by Reuters.
Project Wing, an offshoot from the GoogleX research lab, is the tech giant's answer to the concept of using unmanned aerial craft to deliver goods. Now working alongside NASA, Google's team is furiously laying the groundwork with pilot flights and tests to refine a commercially viable business model -- however red tape is still an obstacle that must be crossed.
Alphabet is currently in talks with the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and stakeholders about setting up an air traffic control system to control UAV delivery flights at altitudes under 500 feet.
Google would like to see a carved-out section of airspace reserved for drones, but such options are unlikely to become established until the FAA finalizes a set of rules for businesses using drones to follow, expected in early 2016.
Rival Amazon is also exploring the potential of drone deliveries. Revealed in 2013, the drone-to-door service Amazon Prime Air aims to deliver packages ordered online by Prime customers in as little as 30 minutes.
Since then, Google, Wal-Mart and other rumored firms have been furiously working on similar concepts.
As unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are a new entry into the market not only for commerce but consumer hobbyists, government agencies have been trying to catch up and decide how best to regulate this technology and keep airspace safe. As a result, a drone registry is likely to be a necessary element conducive to controlling drones and making sure our airspace is not cluttered or unsafe for other aerial vehicles to travel in.
According to Vos, a wireless communication system to keep drones away from other aerial vehicles -- such as commercial aircraft -- and identifying operators could be set up in as little as 12 months.
The executive is part of a federal task force established by the FAA and US Department of Transportation (DOT) earlier this year to set up such a registry. Other members include Sean Cassidy from Amazon Prime Air, Randall Burdette from the National Association of State Aviation Officials, Wal-Mart's Thomas Head and the Helicopter Association's Matt Zuccaro.
"We're pretty much on a campaign here, working with the FAA, working with the small UAV community and the aviation community at large, to move things along," Vos commented.
In related news, MIT researcher Andrew Barry from the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL) has designed a $1700 next-generation drone capable of recognizing and avoiding obstacles at speeds of up to 30 miles per hour without human intervention.
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