Project Wing is a drone program that Google X, the search giant's research lab, has kept under wraps for two years. In August, they conducted tests for flying drones, about 30 large seagull-sized planes that deliver packages across cities.
The flying vehicles are a cross between planes and helicopters. They take off in a vertical position then rotate to a horizontal position for the rest of their flights. Packages are attached with winches and are hovered to the ground. Something referred to as an "egg" is at the bottom of the tether and detects when the package has reached the ground. It then detaches the package and is pulled back up to the body of the plane.
The packages move at about 22 miles per hour when being delivered to the ground from the plane. The winch then slows down to about 2 meters per second to ensure the delivery gets a soft landing.
“If you can imagine a user case where we’re going to someone’s house, and the egg hits something — maybe it hit the power lines, maybe it hit the trees, maybe it hit the roof, maybe it hit the railing on the porch before it got to the porch. There are a lot of unknowns and environmental challenges,” Project Wing's hardware lead James Burgess told The Atlantic.
“So the egg is smart enough to know that it hit something, but the vehicle also knows how high it is and the winch also knows how much line it is letting out. The egg says, ‘I hit something,’ and the vehicle says, ‘But wait, you’re not far enough down yet, so keep going because probably you bounced off something and don’t arm yourself for [package] release.’ So, all of our sensors and components work together in this network to make good decisions.”
The pilot plane has a computer of desktop-class housed in its tail. Above it is the power system, batteries, cabling and big capacitor. The capacitor is hooked up to motors, which sends performance data to the flight computer. To the left of the computer is the inertial measurement unit (IMU), which determines the X-Y-Z positioning of the plane using accelerometers and gyroscopes. There is a GPS unit in the nose of the aircraft and a camera in the tail.
The ultimate goal is for Google to launch its own delivery system for items customers want shipped quickly. The program would then deliver such items using their super-fast self-flying vehicles, which are said to be able to travel across a city in just two minutes.
See Project Wing in action in the video below.
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