UPDATED 13:13 EST / OCTOBER 17 2017


Google’s Project Wing drones will deliver medicine and – yes – burritos in Australia

Google LLC owner Alphabet Inc.’s drone delivery initiative Project Wing has run thousands of test flights in relatively controlled environments, but thanks to a new partnership with two Australian businesses, Project Wing’s drones will soon be dropping deliveries directly into people’s backyards.

Alphabet has partnered with Mexican food chain Guzman y Gomez and retail pharmacy chain Chemist Warehouse to make drone deliveries throughout the southeastern region of Australia, including New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory. Project Wing’s testers, which includes “alpaca farmers, math professors, equestrians, and artists (not to mention a few curious kangaroos) ,” will be able to make purchases from the two businesses, which will then be delivered via drone right to their homes.

According to the Project Wing team, the drones have proven to be reliable, but they are not quite ready for the general public yet, which is why tests such as the ones it is doing with Guzman y Gomez and Chemist Warehouse are so important.

“Our drones are able to deliver items almost anywhere — backyards, public parks, farmlands or even fire-breaks,” James Ryan Burgess, co-lead of Project Wing, said in a blog post Monday. “But we need to train our systems to reliably identify safe and convenient delivery locations.”

Burgess said this is more complicated than it looks. “We have to incorporate customer preferences — e.g. many of our testers would like packages delivered to backyards so they’re not visible from the road, or near kitchens so food items can be unpacked quickly,” he said. “And we have to be ready to accommodate changing conditions at the delivery location.”

Project Wing’s unmanned traffic management platform allows the drones to preplan most of their flight, but they also rely on onboard sensors to navigate around unexpected obstacles. Burgess added that the partnership will help the team better understand the logistics of handling orders and streamlining the process of loading goods onto the drones for delivery.

For example, with Guzman y Gomez, Project Wing will have to figure out how to get its technology to process kitchen orders to ensure that food is safely handled and delivered quickly so that it is still fresh. With Chemist Warehouse, Project Wing will need to learn how to process orders for a much wider range of products than it is used to dealing with, as the pharmacy chain will offer more than 100 products for testers to order, including vitamins, dental products and over-the-counter medicines.

“The information we gather from both of these test partners will help us build a system so that merchants of all kinds can focus on what they’re good at — like making food or helping people feel healthier — rather than being distracted by complex delivery logistics,” Burgess said.

Photo: Alphabet

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