Google spreads its wings, moving into drone deliveries

Amazon isn't the only tech giant experimenting with drones. Google has unveiled Project Wing, which is focusing its efforts on disaster relief, at least for now.

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Google's drone deliveries will for now focus on disaster relief. Google

Google is working on a delivery system called Project Wing that will use what it's calling "self-flying" drones to bring goods to people.

The search giant has been working on the service for two years, and it's the latest project announced by Google X, the division of the company that works on Google's most ambitious projects. Other X initiatives include self-driving cars and the connected headset Google Glass.

Google has been testing the vehicles in Queensland, Australia, and has already made deliveries to locals -- including shipments of candy bars, dog treats, cattle vaccines, water, and radios. Similar to the company's self-driving car project, the drones will be able to fly a preprogrammed route at the push of a button. The company said that it will be a few more years before the system is ready for commercial use.

Google isn't the only tech giant experimenting with drones. Facebook has been working with drones through an effort called Connectivity Lab, announced in March. In December, Amazon announced it is developing a drone system that will bring products to customers. But while Amazon's efforts seem to be more focused on consumers, Google's early development of the system has been around disaster relief. For example, one early mission for the project in 2012 was delivering defibrillators to heart attack victims.

"Even just a few of these, being able to shuttle nearly continuously, could service a very large number of people in an emergency situation," Astro Teller, head of Google X, told the BBC.

The vehicles have a wingspan of about 5 feet, and have four electrically driven propellers, according to the BBC. The aircraft itself weighs almost 19 pounds, but with a package in hand, weighs 22 pounds.

Aside from the drone project, the rivalry between Google and Amazon has been heating up. Google has stepped up its focus on e-commerce, while Amazon is said to be building out an ad network platform, which has long been Google's bread and butter. On Monday, Amazon announced the nearly $1 billion acquisition of game-streaming service Twitch, after Google had reportedly been in late-stage talks to snap up the company. And Amazon uses its own variation of Google's Android operating system for its phones and tablets, along with a separate app store.

Google's experimental projects division, Google X, has become a hotbed of curiosities and "moon shots," to use CEO Larry Page's term, of ambitious but secretive skunkworks projects that could change the world -- or fail.

The first Google X project burst into the news before Google X itself had been publicly named. The Self-Driving Car project was born out of the 2005 DARPA Grand Challenge, and now is expected to be road-ready sometime between 2017 and 2020.

Since then, other projects have been revealed, including Google Glass, Project Loon's Internet-broadcasting hot air balloons, a contact lens that can monitor blood glucose levels, a medical records analysis project, a wind-power project, and a computer network that replicates the architecture of the human brain.

The company also toyed with a number of projects that it concluded were duds, including a space elevator, jetpack, teleportation, and hoverboard -- think "Back to the Future II."

Most recently, Google announced that it had purchased Gecko Design to help bolster the look and feel of Google X projects.

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