When Amazon announced that they were working on drone delivery, called Prime Air, in 2013 people were shocked and excited. Amazon launched their first successful flight in December 2016, but there are still many obstacles in the way. They must create reliable drones that can operate when flying to places far from a distribution center, urban areas or high drone traffic areas. Amazon’s drones also have to pass FAA and NASA tests. Amazon has competition: Google‘s Project Wing, a drone, and automated aircraft delivery service that is quickly jumping over all the hurdles.

Project Wing claims that drone delivery will be cheaper, faster and less wasteful than traditional delivery via truck or large aircraft. The drones will fly at less than 500 feet. The airspace from the ground to 500 feet is regulated but not completely controlled. Flying the drones at this distance will keep interactions with life on the ground and other aircraft above to a minimum. Project Wing is designing drones to have minimal interaction with other manned and unmanned aircraft and birds in the sky. The team’s ultimate goal is to make this 500-foot airspace a network for drones for anyone to use.

A Project Wing drone successfully delivering a package in Virginia (Project Wing)A Project Wing drone successfully delivering a package in Virginia (Project Wing)

The engineers at Project Wing aim for drones to deliver consumer goods to emergency medicine, and that is quickly becoming a reality. Project Wing launched the first tester flights in 2014 in California, and in September 2016 they began testing at a FAA test site in Virginia. This week, the drones successfully passed tests by the FAA and NASA for Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS). These tests were to prove that multiple drones could fly and deliver packages at the same time, in the same airspace, without crashing into each other and clog up airspace. Project Wing successfully demonstrated this at a testing center in Virginia this week. The team successfully launched three Wing drones for pickup and delivery missions, while two Intel drones and a DIJ Inspire drone were also in flight. All the drones shared the same airspace, and there were no crashes or issues. The Wing traffic team automatically plotted all the aircraft’s paths and updated the drones while they were in flight to avoid crashes. They passed the tests with flying colors. Drone delivery just took a step closer to becoming a reality.

The next step for Project Wing is testing the drones in a number of different conditions. The tests that were done this week were only with a small number of drones in a fairly open airspace. The researchers now need to test how the drones will do in high traffic or urban conditions. While commercial drone delivery is still a dream of the future, it isn’t as far away as you might think.

To learn more about Project Wing, visit their site here.