Drones Still Not Ready for Commercial Use

This undated image provided by Google shows a Project Wing drone vehicle during delivery. (PHOTO CREDIT: AP)
This undated image provided by Google shows a Project Wing drone vehicle during delivery. (PHOTO CREDIT: AP)

The tech industry’s enthusiasm for building small delivery drones may be getting ahead of figuring out what to do with them.

On Thursday, with much fanfare, Google revealed Project Wing, an experimental programme out of the company’s long-term projects division Google X. In a video, the company showed a buzzing aircraft — half plane, half helicopter — using a 61m fishing line to drop dog treats to a farmer in Queensland, Australia.

But for all the Tomorrowland wonder of a potential delivery-by-drone service, plenty of issues will be tricky to solve. Drone technology has not been thoroughly tested in populated areas and commercial use of drones is not allowed in the United States. Even if it were, it is not clear that companies could make a profit using advanced, helicopter-like vehicles to deliver dog food, toothpaste or whatever else a modern family might need.

Still, dozens of companies have tested using drones for tasks such as crop dusting and monitoring breaks in railroad tracks and oil pipelines. Last year, Amazon revealed its experimental delivery service, Prime Air, which it said could one day deliver packages to customers within half an hour.

And researchers at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) are working on ways to manage that menagerie of low-flying aircraft. At its Moffett Federal Airfield, about 6km from Google’s headquarters in California, the agency has been developing a drone traffic management program that would, in effect, be a separate air-traffic control system for things that fly low to the ground — around 400 to 500 feet for most drones.

Much like air-traffic control systems for conventional aircraft, the program would monitor the skies for weather and traffic. Wind is a particular hazard because drones weigh so little compared with regular planes.

The system would also make sure the drones do not run into buildings, news helicopters or other lower-flying objects — a more challenging task than for an airplane flying at 30,000 feet. There would also be no-fly zones, such as anywhere near a major airport.

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SOURCE: Today Online