Search engine giant Google gifted logistics geeks an early Christmas present last November when it announced that Project Wing, its drone delivery service, would launch in 2017. While scant details about how the initiative will work have been released, a patent filed by the company in 2014 and granted Tuesday has shone a little light on how part of it could operate.
As Fast Company first reported, the patent outlines a system by which “mobile delivery receptacles” (presumably, boxes on wheels) will work in tandem with drones to allow for “accurate and reliable package deliveries.”
Here’s how: Upon being notified of a pending delivery, the receptacle will emit infrared beacons that will help guide the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) to its location. The drone will hand-off the package to the receptacle, which will then take it to a secure location, such as a garage.
“Conventional aerial delivery device methods do not allow for safe, secure delivery of packages to delivery locations,” the patent filing said, noting, “For example, leaving the package on the front porch of a busy street address may make it more likely that the package is stolen.”
Furthermore: “Detailed delivery instructions to an unmanned aerial delivery service may be difficult for the limited vision system of the aerial delivery device to interpret.”
But just because Project Wing plans to launch next year doesn’t mean it will. For one, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has to first publish its final rules for commercial drone operations before the likes of Google or Amazon (which has been working on its own Prime Air drone delivery venture) can take to the skies.
“We’re pretty much on a campaign here, working with the FAA, working with the small UAV community and the aviation community at large, to move things along,” Dave Vos, head of Project Wing, said in a speech at an air traffic control convention in Washington, D.C., late last year.