With more companies joining the increasingly competitive drone-delivery market, no one is quite sure who will be the first to launch in the United States. News and reviews, however, lean towards tech giants Google and Amazon, but there are others that are quietly moving forward with their mission.
Google, Amazon, Walmart, and Workhorse are among the many companies either seeking to or already testing electric unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). According to the Department of Transportation and Federal Aviation Administration’s proposed rules, these small drones must weigh no more than 55 pounds, fly no faster than 100 miles per hour, and are limited to a flying altitude of 500 feet.
Amazon’s rotor-powered Prime Air vehicles are expected to travel 50 miles per hour, weigh no more than Google’s drone, carry five-pound goods (representative of 86 percent of products sold), and also be capable of a 20-mile round trip. Furthermore, they will likely to be launched from a warehouse.
The overall goal is to transport packages to customers in 30 minutes
or less — not just in the U.S., but worldwide. At the moment, Amazon is testing its UAV in the country and in multiple international areas.
The Guardian says that Google’s Project Wing will use a self-flying gadget that is capable of traveling up to the maximum speed limit and that will meet the weight restriction. Although its purpose has not yet been specified, it seems clear that the drone will be used for some sort of package-delivery. In Australia, Google X’s team has already tested flights with chocolate bars, a first aid kit, and more.
The X group is also apparently piggybacking on NASA’s exemption to test its drone in California. The goal is to launch UAV delivery service in 2017.
It’s still early in the game, and regulation roadblocks and issues such as battery life, weather, and technology are bound to creep up for everyone. But Google has set a clear timeline for its service, and it seems they are pushing forward mighty hard — enough to potentially be the first to launch in the U.S.
A relative newcomer to the drone game, Walmart plans to test UAV models from Chinese manufacturer SZ DJI, for the purposes of package delivery, street pickups, and inventory checks of warehouses, from which the drones will most likely launch.
The company’s FAA approval to test its UAV outdoors is still pending.
Last but not least is Workhorse, a smaller company that developed a 30-pound octocopter named HorseFly, which has the same maximum air speed as Prime Air but can travel only 10 miles. That being said, it doesn’t need to go far, and it’s only carrying small packages when it launches from and re-mates (in order to recharge) with an EV truck: a vehicle that is already en route to deliver other parcels.
Workhorse was granted permission by the FAA in October to test deliveries with their machine in Ohio.