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Project Wing
August 28, 2014 7:05 PM   Subscribe

Inside Google's Secret Drone Delivery Programme The Australian test flight and 30 others like it conducted in mid-August are the culmination of the first phase of Project Wing, a secret drone program that’s been running for two years at Google X, the company’s whoa-inducing, long-range research lab.
posted by modernnomad (37 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
…people immediately see the negatives of any new thing. “We are not deaf to those issues and we’re really eager to talk to society about how to mitigate those,” Teller said.

I am deeply suspicious of anyone who talks about “society” as if they're not involved in it.
posted by zamboni at 7:49 PM on August 28 [19 favorites]


"Whoa-inducing"?
posted by nevercalm at 8:03 PM on August 28 [1 favorite]


More like "woe-inducing," AMIRITE??
posted by nevercalm at 8:04 PM on August 28 [1 favorite]


Isn't Google X just a clever advertising company's effort to maintain an edgy 'we're-more-than-just-lazy-people-clicking-top-links' brand illusion? It's like the math nerd in high school getting a Mohawk. You want to take her aside and say 'Selling advertising space on the internet is cool dude. Just relax and don't try so hard.'
posted by astrobiophysican at 8:21 PM on August 28 [5 favorites]


"Whoa-inducing"?
whoa. int.
2. A word of command to a horse or other draught-animal to stop or stand still; … Hence used jocularly to a person as a command to stop or desist.
posted by zamboni at 8:27 PM on August 28 [5 favorites]


From the first paragraph:

"Right before the delivery hits the ground, it slows, hitting the earth with a tap. The delivery slows, almost imperceptibly, just before it hits the ground, hardly kicking up any dust. "

...Not just bad writing -- mysteriously bad? Like the author had an inventory for all the sentences in this article, and he accidentally added two instances of "DESCRIBE PACKAGE FALLING [COMMA] DESCRIBE LANDING"
posted by serif at 8:27 PM on August 28 [7 favorites]


This should be great news for shareholders. Especially the part where they unveil their secret online store selling physical goods, which moves volume like Amazon.
posted by Mr. Six at 8:42 PM on August 28 [4 favorites]


And UFO sightings increased 5000% on that day.
posted by subdee at 8:52 PM on August 28


Also I always knew this, but it's nice to see it written down in an article:

Many of Google’s famously computation driven projects—like the creation of Google Maps—employed literally thousands of people to supervise and correct the automatic systems. It is one of Google’s open secrets that they deploy human intelligence as a catalyst. Instead of programming in that last little bit of reliability, the final 1 or 0.1 or 0.01 percent, they can deploy a bit of cheap human brainpower.
posted by subdee at 8:54 PM on August 28 [2 favorites]


I look at this project, and since Google does not have product to physically deliver, this is really a cover for folks like me to take out my .22 and take some target practice. First I hit the thing dangling then I go for the drone itself.
posted by 724A at 8:57 PM on August 28 [1 favorite]


724A, there's an explanation of what they're going to deliver at the end of the article:
Google, however, is not alone in thinking that delivery by drone is a plausible part of the future... Matternet has been working to build a business around delivering medicines and other high-value goods in places without roads. They’ve tested in Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and Bhutan...[imagining] not an anywhere-to-anywhere free for all, but that drones will carry goods to landing depots run by local people who build their own small businesses around the UAV service...

There are other cargo drone believers, even outside Silicon Valley... the Platform Unmanned Cargo Aircraft (PUCA) [is] devoted to bringing people together around the idea. Their vision of the future would see large cargo planes carrying between 2 and 20 tons of cargo flying relatively slowly and cheaply from places underserved by the existing infrastructure...

Beyond the reputation boost, [PUCA's Heerkins] hopes that Google will develop its program in a way that allows other companies to tap into its infrastructure. “The significance of what Google does, to me, is less in the vehicles they use here and now... but the possibility in being a big organization of implementing the support infrastructure that’s needed.”... Matternet’s Raptopoulos wondered, too, whether they might not launch a service, but provide the cloud infrastructure for others to operate their own vehicles. “Google understands data infrastructure and mapping at the different levels better than almost anybody else. They may be thinking about an infrastructure play more than a service play”.
I can understand not reading to the end of the article, though, cos it's pretty badly written. Just trying to pull a section out for a blockquote was a hassle because there's so much cruft in each paragraph.
posted by subdee at 9:15 PM on August 28 [2 favorites]


And exactly how am I supposed to hate on a pilot program to deliver medicine to the impoverished and war-torn? Thanks a lot, subdee.
posted by No-sword at 9:35 PM on August 28 [4 favorites]


You could always go with the fall back, No-sword, which is that it creates a culture of dependency.

Me? I'm going with it creates Cargo Cults.
posted by notyou at 10:52 PM on August 28 [1 favorite]


If you're looking for reasons to hate on it, you can always take the environmental angle: carrying tiny payloads with individual heavier-than-air flying drones is basically the least energy efficient form of cargo transportation you can imagine.
posted by Pyry at 12:19 AM on August 29 [4 favorites]


Cheap commodified drones, now that's going to do a lot of good in war zones. Not to talk about self driving cars, which to me look like the most obvious dual-use technology ever.
posted by Don't Fear the Reaper at 2:14 AM on August 29


Thanks guys!
posted by No-sword at 2:15 AM on August 29


Instead of programming in that last little bit of reliability, the final 1 or 0.1 or 0.01 percent, they can deploy a bit of cheap human brainpower.

So their robot slaves are actually human beings, like in Lem's The Futurological Congress?

(The Futurological Congress is my favourite critique of Western capitalism from the Soviet bloc. That's the twist, by the way, so I've basically spoiled the book for you. Never mind, read it anyway.)
posted by Grangousier at 2:32 AM on August 29 [3 favorites]


"carrying tiny payloads with individual heavier-than-air flying drones is basically the least energy efficient form of cargo transportation you can imagine."

Trekking days through bad jungle roads on a cheap 125cc motorbike or battered Corolla may be worse? This could really transform the lives of people in some of the remoter villages in the world.

Thanks for the post. For me, watching it I had the same reaction to many of the other things I hear about from Google X: something approaching awe at the possibilities i.e. profoundly fearful wrapped up with 'damn that's cool'
posted by YouRebelScum at 2:41 AM on August 29 [1 favorite]


I imagine this being quite useful in places where the roads are encumbered by border checkpoints and the cargo is illegal or subject to taxation.

Plus there are plenty of places even in the developed world where to go 12k as the crow flies, you have to drive back down the mountain to the valley, down the valley to the plain, along the plain to the next valley, up that valley and back up the other side of the same damn mountain.
posted by emilyw at 3:37 AM on August 29 [1 favorite]


The article only gets interesting when the author leaves Google's bubble and writes more about Africa, and about the paradoxes of having modern facilities without basic ones; the sort of high tech frontier life Firefly popularised.

Automatons—donkeys—are a worthy option for delivering medicine and necessities in Africa and other places that are bereft of basic infrastructure: jungles, disaster zones, etc.

Imagine targeted aid "donkey" drones dropping off supplies to faraway communities suffering, without everyone having to fight for them (and risk theft by bandits) at depots?
posted by flippant at 3:41 AM on August 29


> If you're looking for reasons to hate on it, you can always take the environmental angle: carrying tiny payloads with individual heavier-than-air flying drones is basically the least energy efficient form of cargo transportation you can imagine.

That's why you should use full-sized petroleum-fueled helicopters to deliver an envelope of medicine vials.
posted by ardgedee at 4:51 AM on August 29 [2 favorites]


I suspect these people watched too much Thunderbirds when they were young.
posted by Segundus at 5:21 AM on August 29 [1 favorite]


Google does not have product to physically deliver

Just broaden your definition of "search results."
posted by jhc at 5:32 AM on August 29 [1 favorite]


This is going to make stealing stuff so much more fun. Rocket launcher thievery!
posted by nerdler at 5:35 AM on August 29


This is nothing new. The Pashtun region has had targeted delivery by drone for years.
posted by leotrotsky at 5:44 AM on August 29 [2 favorites]


This is nothing compared to their all ready widely known innovative deliberately delayed for like a week free shipping with tracking because fuck you for not being prime program.
posted by srboisvert at 6:50 AM on August 29


I think this is a great idea. I can see it being used for remote areas as well as solving the "last mile" problem in developed countries. A number of companies are working on it, so I honestly do expect (and hope) to be able to get packages this way within a few years.

As for energy costs, deliverers currently drive themselves, their van, the next parcel they have to deliver, and all the other parcels they have to deliver that day, to each address as they go.
posted by Thing at 7:39 AM on August 29


I wonder if you could shoot one of these down with a hacked up microwave magnetron and a nice dish antenna?
posted by ryanrs at 7:51 AM on August 29


I'm not convinced the problem of aerial delivery is worth solving, but I'm pretty impressed with Project Wing's solution. The tail-sitter plane / quadcopter / skycrane mashup is some clever engineering.
posted by Popular Ethics at 8:38 AM on August 29


And UFO sightings increased 5000% on that day.

I was at a presentation once regarding exoplanets by a NASA scientist who had also done some work for the military. Someone predictably asked him about alien life, and while he gave a polite general answer, he did note that the traditional descriptions of UFOs (round or cigar-shaped objects with extreme rates of climb and maneuverability beyond the capability of any known craft, general lack of noise, absence of trail, etc.) sound an awful lot like descriptions of unmanned drones and that a lot of the report sightings have occurred near military bases doing experimental aeronautics research...
posted by Sangermaine at 9:02 AM on August 29 [1 favorite]


Hey guys no need to wait for drones: delivery vans and trucks are more accessible targets for your theft and destruction.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 9:21 AM on August 29


It's striking that the American male reaction in many places (including MeFi on occasion) is to proudly declare the intent to shoot them down. It's very odd to me.
posted by jaduncan at 10:11 AM on August 29 [3 favorites]


This is nothing compared to their all ready widely known innovative deliberately delayed for like a week free shipping with tracking because fuck you for not being prime program.

Google prime?
posted by yoink at 10:11 AM on August 29


G' anticipates your next query and delivers your search result via next moment drone, an instant before you think to ask.
posted by notyou at 12:43 PM on August 29 [1 favorite]


to proudly declare the intent to shoot them down. It's very odd to me.

Not at all. How much of the history of that nation is based on using that tool to get a benefit without regard to the costs of using such a tool?

If there was not a gun, it would be EMP, microwave, water jets, netting, other dropping 'chaff' like old fishing line, ball bearing with electromagnetic acceleration, et al.

Getting something for nothing is the new economy, don';t ja know
posted by rough ashlar at 8:07 PM on August 29


Omnivore: A game of drones
posted by homunculus at 3:02 PM on September 5




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