Google, Amazon test UAS package delivery systems

By UAS Magazine Staff | October 15, 2014

Amazon and Google have been trading headlines regarding the unmanned aerial system-based delivery services being developed separately by the online retail giants.

Amazon made big news in December when its Prime Air delivery system was showcased on CBS’s “60 Minutes.” The system’s goal is to get packages into customers' hands in 30 minutes or less using unmanned aerial vehicles.

Google created a stir in August when it announced Project Wing with a video showing dog treats being delivered via UAV to a farmer near Warwick, Australia. The team ran more than 30 successful delivery flights using what it refers to as “self-flying vehicles.”

Amazon has requested an exemption from FAA regulations prohibiting the commercial use of UAS. Section 333 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 gives the agency authority to grant expedited operational authorization to safely accelerate the integration of civil unmanned aircraft systems into the national airspace system.

“By this petition, Amazon is seeking its first such authorization in order to conduct additional research and development for Prime Air,” wrote Paul Misener, Amazon vice president for global public policy, in a letter to Michael Huerta, FFA administrator.

The Economic Times of India reported in August that Amazon would debut its delivery service overseas with trials in Bangalore and Mumbai, although the retail giant declined to comment.

However, in his letter petitioning the FAA, Misener hinted that the company might consider the possibility taking its UAS program outside the U.S.

“Of course, Amazon would prefer to keep the focus, jobs, and investment of this important research and development initiative in the United States by conducting private research and development operations outdoors near Seattle, where our next generation R&D lab and distinguished team of engineers, scientists and aeronautical professionals are located,” Misener wrote.

That point was later reinforced by Michel Toscano, president and CEO of the Association for Unmanned Vehicles Systems International, when he wrote to the U.S. Department of Transportation supporting Amazon’s exemption request.

“Amazon wants to test their systems outdoors in the U.S., as opposed to overseas,” Toscano wrote. “Amazon’s exemption adequately addressed the safety requirements in a number of federal aviation regulations, and there is a compelling need for the FAA to allow Amazon to test their systems to ensure the next evolution in package delivery happens in the U.S. first.”

Google says its “self-flying vehicles” will deliver goods by flying a programmed route with just the push of a button, and will also follow rules to respond safely if they run into unexpected situations such as a wind gust.

“Self-flying vehicles could open up entirely new approaches to moving things around, including options that are faster, cheaper, less wasteful, and more environmentally sensitive than the way we do things today,” says Google spokesperson Raymond Gobberg.

Google plans to develop different vehicle types and shapes that will vary depending on where the delivery occurs and what’s being delivered.

“It's going to be a few years before we have a system ready,” Gobberg says. “This has much more in common with the self-driving car than with the remote controlled planes you might see in the park on the weekend.”

In the coming year, Google’s research goals include developing detect-and-avoid systems, precision navigation, reduced vehicle noise and an end-to-end delivery system.

It has been widely reported that Google is looking at developing an Internet delivery system using UAS technology. Gobberg declined to comment on whether Google has requested permission from the Federal Communications Commission to test the system in New Mexico, when contacted by UAS Magazine.