kreizihorse - Fotolia

Alphabet X gets go-ahead to test delivery drones in the US

The US government approves Project Wing drone trials in the US as part of an initiative aimed at boosting UAV safety and use

The US government has given Google sister company X under Alphabet the go-ahead to test delivery drones a part of an initiative to develop safety measures for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).

The news comes just a week after rival Amazon announced a similar initiative with the UK government that will enable the company to test its delivery UAVs, commonly known as drones.

Amazon said the tests in collaboration with the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) will assess the performance of the sensors on the drones to make sure the drones can identify and avoid obstacles.

Alongside giving the green light for X’s Project Wing tests in the US, the White House announced the US National Science Foundation will spend $35m in the next five years on UAV research.

The research will be aimed at accelerating the understanding of how to design, control and apply UAVs to beneficial applications. This will include areas such as monitoring and inspection of physical infrastructure, smart disaster response, agricultural monitoring and the study of severe storms.

The US Department of Interior also plans to expand its use of drone flights to support search and rescue operations, augment manned aircraft operations and improve government processes around technological adoption.

The US government initiative on UAVs comes just a month after the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) finalised regulations on licensing requirements for commercial UAVs.

According to the White House, the commercial drone industry is projected to generate more than $82bn for the US economy and support as many as 100,000 new jobs by 2025.

Read more about drones

Initial tests for Project Wing were conducted in Australia in 2014. This is because of the country’s relatively flexible rules about the use of drones compared with other parts of the world, including the US.

Current US regulations do not allow for the type of long-distance flights Project Wing is proposing. As a result, tests will be conducted only at an FAA-approved drone test site and below 400 feet, pending future approvals.

The tests will include drone flights with external cargo loads, and build up toward flights beyond the operator’s line of sight, the White House said. Project Wing would also start to develop and deploy an open-interface air traffic control system for small drones flying beneath 400 feet in altitude.

However, Project Wing has reportedly already conducted tests in US airspace by sidestepping FAA rules in the past year under Nasa’s Certificate of Waiver or Authorization (COA), which allows government agencies to operate UAVs as part of a joint project, according to the Guardian.

The Project Wiing drone combines plane and helicopter technology, enabling it hover and take off vertically as well as fly faster and further than quad-copters, with the whole body providing lift.

Unlike military drones that are remotely controlled, X’s prototypes are given a set destination, but are then allowed to fly themselves to that location.

Project Wing was conceived as a way to deliver defibrillator kits to heart attack victims and disaster relief aid to isolated areas, but will be used commercially to deliver goods to consumers in a similar way to Amazon’s proposed Prime Air service.

Read more on IT innovation, research and development