Business

Farmer in world-first test for Google Drone

“It’s just amazing something like this has been tested in our own backyard,” says Neil Parfitt, a Loch Lomond resident who was the first in the world to receive a parcel delivered by a Google drone.
“It’s just amazing something like this has been tested in our own backyard,” says Neil Parfitt, a Loch Lomond resident who was the first in the world to receive a parcel delivered by a Google drone. Youtube

LOCH Lomond farmer Neil Parfitt has become the first person in the world to receive a delivery from a Google Drone.

The drone is one of the most technologically advanced Google projects that could see autonomous drones deliver anything from day-to-day items to life-saving medicines.

The very first delivery to Mr Parfitt simply carried dog food, a Cherry Ripe and a Crunchie bar but the star-struck local said he could see endless possibilities.

It all began when Brisbane-based Unmanned Systems Australia's company director Phil Swinsburg phoned a friend and asked to trial the drone on his property on behalf of Google.

It just so happened that friend was Mr Parfitt's next door neighbour.

"It was a huge operation," Mr Parfitt said.

"There was about 30 people from technicians to film crews and they were trying to simulate different scenarios.

"I couldn't believe it when someone said 'hey, you're the first person to ever receive a delivery from one of these things'."

Mr Parfitt said the drone wasn't overly large with a wing span of around a metre.

The drone wasn’t overly large with a wing span of around a metre.
The drone wasn’t overly large with a wing span of around a metre.

"It's battery operated and it hardly made any sound," he said.

"It was amazing how it just hovered and dropped off the parcel."

Mr Parfitt said he could see endless possibilities for the drone, including use in medical emergencies.

"If someone was stranded in bushland the drone could drop off a parcel of medicines or food," he said.

"The drone could also travel faster than a car so if there was a medical emergency it could be really handy.

"It's just amazing something like this has been tested in our own backyard."

Mr Parfitt, who has a background as an electronics technician, said he was able to look at Google's set up.

"It would be worth thousands of dollars," he said.

"It all seemed very basic."

A Google drone drops off a parcel to a Loch Lomond property.
A Google drone drops off a parcel to a Loch Lomond property.

The prototype drone used was a "tailsitter", which allowed for vertical take-offs and landings and high speeds during flight - up to about 90kmh.

Project Wing leader Nick Roy told metropolitan media that Mr Parfitt and other farmers in the area seemed "very comfortable" with the concept of delivery drones flying overhead.

Neil Parfitt watches the Google drone in action.
Neil Parfitt watches the Google drone in action.

"The novelty wasn't what everybody was responding to - it was the application, the delivery use case, that people seemed to really get," he said.

Mr Roy said the tailsitter drones, which were vertical during takeoff, landing and while hovering but travelled as speed horizontally like a "flying wing", had sophisticated sensors to allowed it to fly autonomously.

Power lines, flocking birds and incorrect co-ordinates, for example, would ultimately be detected by the drones and the necessary flight adjustments made.

"It's one thing to make a vehicle that, when operated by a person, can do a delivery," Mr Roy said.

"It's a very different and much harder thing to do - which no-one, including us, has done in a really robust way yet accomplished - is to make that happen autonomously in a very safe way."

Google X director Astro Teller said Project Wing's goal was ultimately to build a system for delivering small and medium sized packages within minutes to anyone, using self-flying vehicles.

Mr Teller said Google had big plans for Project Wing.

"Going forward, our aspiration is now to build out, start to test and eventually launch a real delivery service using self-flying vehicles," he said.

"We're trying to build towards a service and to ask along the way many questions about what people would want delivered and about what things they particularly like or are sensitive to in the delivery."

Topics:  editors picks, games and gadgets, technology



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