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Feds give Google OK to test Project Wing drone deliveries

Engadget logo Engadget 2/08/2016 Steve Dent
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The US Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) has been very cautious about drone testing in the US so far, but that's about to change. The White House has announced that the FAA has granted Google permission to test its Project Wing delivery services below 400 feet at six sanctioned test sites. The flights will be part of a new push by the US National Science Foundation, which is spending over $35 million on unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) research and testing over the next five years

Google's Project Wing drones, first revealed in 2014, aren't at all like Amazon's drones -- they actually take off vertically then fly like a fixed-wing plane. While not as maneuverable as a regular drone, they can fly much farther and carry more weight, as shown below. The FAA released its final rules for drone operations in June, but deliveries still aren't allowed. However, Google has reportedly been testing delivery drones in the US anyway, skirting the regulations by using a NASA waiver. It plans to launch the service commercially in 2017.

According to a White House fact sheet, Google will be able to test drones with cargo beyond line-of-site, which is another current no-no by FAA rules. It will also "develop and deploy an open-interface, airspace management solution for safe low-altitude operations," according to the Feds.

The initiatives were unveiled during a big event today that included keynotes from US Chief Technology Office Megan Smith, FAA Administrator Michael Huerta and Intel CEO Bryan Krzanich. The White House emphasized that government must be more flexible about allowing companies to test drones and other tech over US soil. Amazon, for one, recently announced that the FAA's restrictive rules forced it to test its deliver drones in the UK.

FAA chief Huerta cited rescue operations and crop dusting as two big areas where drones could assist or replace manned aircraft. "Just last week, two people were killed in two different accidents involving crop dusters – exactly the type of job a small unmanned aircraft could do with much less risk to people and property on the ground," he said.

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