Google X’s Project Wing

A few weeks ago, Google announced it’s program to develop unmanned aircraft for disaster relief — Project Wing.  This news exploded all over the blogosphere in a matter of days, so I didn’t feel I had anything to add at the time.  However, after some marinating, I have some thoughts about the whole thing.

  1. The program has been in progress for two years.  In Australia. This is another piece of evidence that the FAA’s lockdown of all non-recreational things unmanned is forcing innovators to take jobs and technology overseas, and leave the US as a follower rather than a leader.
  2. This doesn’t appear to be competing with Amazon’s Prime Air program–Project Wing was in development before Prime Air was announced, and Google’s aims are decidedly more humanitarian in nature. It does, however, lend weight to the idea that this is a natural progression in technology, that two big companies seized on the idea independently.
  3. It’s interesting the different tacks taken by Amazon and Google in terms of the type of aircraft they’ve selected.  Amazon has stuck strictly with a quadrotor configuration that lands to drop a package.  This configuration is much easier to control, for lots of reasons, but is significantly less efficient.  Google, on the other hand, chose a tail-sitter configuration that can takeoff and land vertically, but uses wings for efficient lift in cruise mode. It also deploys packages on a line rather than landing to deliver.  The transition from hover to forward flight and back is a significant challenge in automatic control (in our lab’s experience).