Google’s efforts to build delivery drones and internet-beaming balloons have come a far way from being just simple science project ideas resulting from brainstorming.
Unlike when they started as X projects, Loon and Wing are now graduating from X to become two new independent businesses: Loon and Wing within Alphabet.
Alphabet is the technology conglomerate that owns Google and now 13 other units, and this so-called graduation from Alphabet’s research lab, X, means the delivery-drone and balloon-internet teams may now be on a path to soon offer commercial services and earn revenue.
This new, independent status suggests the team is satisfied with its progress. Technical hurdles remain, such as delivering in urban areas, and while the regulations may pose a bigger challenge, Wing has worked hard to perfect its technology since it began in 2012, at one point scrapping its entire design.
However, by now the delivery-drone unit Wing has built 11-pound drones with fixed wings for gliding to destinations and 12 rotors for hovering over homes while winching down deliveries.
Wing tested the aircraft in Australia last year, delivering burritos and medicine to customers who ordered the items on a Wing mobile app.
It may also take of in the US sooner than we think – the Federal Aviation Administration is slowly authorizing tests of drone deliveries in the United States, including a future pilot program with Wing in Virginia.
To that end, the company is developing software that routes unmanned aircraft in the sky, a sort of automated air traffic control for drones.
Alphabet’s other new unit, called Loon, is building high-altitude balloons that deliver internet connections to rural or disaster-stricken areas.
Loon’s huge balloons navigate wind currents in the stratosphere, roughly 13 miles above ground, to cluster around areas with poor connectivity.
To do this it works with local telecommunications companies to improve cell service on the ground, acting as a sort of floating, temporary cell tower.
Loon balloons, which began in 2011 as part of X, have already traveled more than 18 million miles, delivering internet from Brazil to New Zealand. Last year, Loon beamed connections to Peru after floods there and Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria.
Loon and Wing’s accomplishments so far are almost too numerous to mention. Tracking UFO sightings, studying whether defibrillators delivered by air could save lives, to finding friendly New Zealanders who allow a secret new technology being used on their house are a few that have successfully been completed in a multifaceted real life series of roles and expectations.
X’s job is to create radical new technologies and build a bridge from an idea to a proven concept. Now that the foundational technology for these projects is built, Loon and Wing are ready to take their products into the world.