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E-commerce drone delivery could take off in a few years, a Google exec says

January 11, 2016 04:16 PM
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(Bloomberg)—Product delivery-by-drone in urban areas may be possible within a few years if the U.S. government and the aviation industry agree to work cooperatively on the new technology, the chief of Google Inc.’s drone cargo project said Monday.

The swift adoption of a registration system for small unmanned aircraft, begun Dec. 21 to capture holiday gift buying, is a template for how different sectors of the aviation world can work together to speed approvals for deliveries, Dave Vos, head of Google X’s Project Wing, said in Washington.

“We’re making huge progress,” Vos said, speaking to the Aero Club of Washington, a group made up of mostly traditional aviation-industry members.

Deliveries of small packages by drone are just part of what Vos sees as a coming revolution in the aviation industry as a result of growing computer power and cheaper sensors allowing automation that will increasingly assist the humans guiding aircraft.

In October, the company known as SingPost said a drone it developed with the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore carried a packet containing a letter and T-shirt on a five-minute, two-kilometer (1.2 miles) flight.

Alphabet Inc., the holding company that owns Google, is in a race with Amazon.com Inc., No. 1 in the Internet Retailer 2015 Top 500 Guide, to develop drones for product delivery. Amazon in November began showing off a new drone prototype on Amazon.com/primeair and a YouTube video reveals how the service might work if regulators clear Amazon’s drones for takeoff. Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the world’s largest retailer and No. 3 in the Top 500, announced in October that  it was also developing similar drones.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, which regulates aviation, expects to finalize rules for commercial drone operations later this year, but those regulations will only allow the simplest operations within sight of the operator. The agency hasn’t begun the formal process of drafting rules for how automated deliveries would work.

The FAA and NASA are also working on developing a low-level air-traffic system to guide drones and prevent mid-air collisions. Google, Amazon and others are also making their own air-traffic systems.

See the video introducing Google's Project Wing:

 

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