3D Robotics


Not a surprise for anyone who has tried dealing with VTOL sporks drones, which are easy to take off but very tricky to land precisely in a wind due to the sail wing. From the WSJ:

Google has scrapped its initial drone design because it was difficult to control and is now working on a new version, according to Astro Teller, head of the Internet company’s Google X research lab.

Teller told the South by Southwest conference in Austin, Tex., that Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin encourage such failures, so researchers can learn from the mistakes and try different technologies and strategies.

In August, Google unveiled a drone-delivery system called Project Wing that the Internet giant was testing. The prototype had a five-foot single wing that sat vertically on the ground and then turned horizontal after take-off. The design was supposed to combine the benefits of vertical, hovering take-offs and landings with the speed of wing-based flying. In the test, the drones carried supplies including vaccines, water and radios to farmers in Queensland, Australia.

The drone was mechanically simpler than other types of drones, but it was harder to control, Teller said on Tuesday. It didn’t hover well in high winds and its cargo shifted too much when the wing moved up and down, he explained.

Google began working on drones in 2011. It’s not clear when it began experimenting with the single-wing design, but Teller said half the team “knew it was the wrong answer” after eight months. After 18 months, about 80% of the team thought this, he added.

The team debated whether to scrap the design or test it quickly in public. Brin told the team they had five months to make deliveries to real people, which wasn’t enough time to come up with a different design, so the team went ahead with the Australia test with their existing prototype, Teller said.

“Even though Sergey’s five-month thing prolonged the problem, it created an end date for it,” Teller said. “It’s possible without that we would have extended the wrong thing even longer.”

Before the Australia tests, the team was already working on a new design that moves away from the single-wing-based approach, he noted

“They’re now working on that vehicle,” Teller said. He plans an update on the status of this new drone later this year.

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  • T3

    @John Dennings  "Fixed wing with tilt-rotors other than tail-sitter?"

    Rope-dangler, catapulted, air-dropped.

  • I offered Astro Teller my patent pending design on the video link 


    it can perform accurate landing even on windy weather.

  • T3


    I agree that as you move away from fossil fuels and the like, things will have to change, and they will. Given the current system we have in place, there's no way the automotive industry and all the politicians associated with them or backed by them will let the car go away. There are plenty of good technologies already there, they just can't be put in place because of the bureaucratic stuff out there. There will definitely be some great changes made as we're forced to change but since we're not there yet, I frankly don't see rails or other systems taking over vehicles in my lifetime unless oil suddenly dries up tomorrow. Alternative energy sources, "clean" ones, still don't put out enough to replace fossil fuels yet either and no one has really seriously looked into ramifications of what happens when you take energy from one source (sun or wind) and use it for something else. If solar cells and wind turbines soak up the energy that normally went into the ground or shaped weather patterns, (which are also tied to each other!) how does that affect everything else? Do we change weather patterns because there's less heating because solar cells converted it to electricity? How does climate change as you take energy out of weather systems through turbines? There's so little out there in the way of turbines and solar cells to really know but what happens if they become efficient enough and are literally everywhere? There are just a lot of variables that we just don't know but that doesn't necessarily mean we shouldn't go down those roads but we shouldn't necessarily say that's the solution when we don't necessarily understand all the ramifications of it.

    Anyway, way off topic now. I do think it's good to see Google is moving on to another platform. It'll be interesting to see what they come up with, even though we'll likely see a DIY guy doing something like that in tandem. It's impressive what people can do now.

  • Hey HFB

    I don't totally agree with the infrastructure problem. The roads aren't "already there". Every year there are billions of dollars going into road repair and expansion. If there wouldn't be any maintenance most places with colder climates and frost would cease to have any roads worth driving on inside of 2-3 years. Roads are therefore mostly a work in progress, for which the same effort could build the new system. The savings in fuel/energy costs would pay for the infrastructure inside of a few short years. Plus asphalt (which is fossil derived btw) and concrete are very big carbon polluters. If we want to ditch fossils, we will have to think up something else to drive on/under as well as stop burning it in engines.

    There are also other factors that force the continuation of a bad idea aka cars. There is to much industry setup to support cars that we can't afford to change. When I say afford, I mean that our monetary and economic system will collapse and fail if we remove fossils from the equation. Our cars are still made from steel, not because it's a good material to make cars, but rather because we have so much existing infrastructure to mine and manufacture it, that mass production techniques are subsidizing metal cars. Yet even there alternatives are available, but corporation/monopolies dictate progress by dominating marketing tactics that leave us with "no choice". 

    As always the transition is what is difficult. But there are possibilities of progressively adopting them as a supplemental system, rather than a direct replacement of cars. Over time, especially once cheap fossil fuels are a thing of the past, the benefits will make it widely accepted. We'll likely just be kicking ourselves for not doing it sooner.

  • T3

    Schweeb might be more efficient as you say and also show through some efficiency numbers but you also have to take into account all the infrastructure that's currently not there that needs to be built to even have that system be considered a viable alternative to autonomous vehicles. Who's going to pay for and maintain the rail system? It's hard enough to get cities to add more public transit options as is, are they really going to add an entirely new, yet efficient system in to replace what's already there?

    At least with autonomous cars, the roads are all there and as people/businesses/cities continue to replace their aging vehicles, they can naturally purchase an autonomous car and it will eventually transition to an autonomous system. There are plenty of quirks to deal with, along with all the jobs that will be lost due to taking a human out of the loop, but it seems like the most viable solution that will come to fruition right now. Yes, it's a 2D problem that's very difficult but self-driving cars are almost here. Doing the coordination with human driven cars in the system that do unpredictable things really complicates things, as does whatever other failures you would have with an autonomous system, but it's all already headed that way.

    There was a post early last month that talked about it.


    There are some flaws and assumptions made there but it's a very real possibility. To do deliveries, like I said, you could have a smaller vehicle on the autonomous delivery truck that goes from road to door. This could even be done with a UAV for small items, but there are issues with that too.

    It's not an ideal delivery system but it seems more viable as things are already going that direction.

  • Colugo

    I was not advocating autopilot controlled cars. I was saying a rail system with pods would be better and faster and could do all person and goods deliveries, including taking the trash to recycling. The 3D component is currently not a benefit of drones, until airspace can be managed automatically.



    With the tiniest bit of foresight, namely going shopping or ordering it online for a daily/weekly delivery by car, you simply don't need "near real time deliveries" via drones at all. Especially not for delivering cold Pizza that's just a joke surely! :-s

    I suppose this is a sign of the times...and it's all thanks to mobile phones! Before mobile phones you needed to be able to convey exactly when and where you wanted to meet someone. Now the mentality is "I'll give you a call when I get there". 

    On ROI:

    What do you expect the outcome is if you add the cost of the environment on the balance sheet including all externalities?

    Now factor in the inefficiencies and unsustainablity of city living in general, add a topping of social decay and disease propagation that cumulate in a medical debt burden that leads to another civil war, which however, in turn fixes the population problem!

    What happens to all the pizza customers then and the drone delivered pizza business? :-'

    I figure I can make outrageous claims too and you can just take my word for it!   :-p

    But seriously can you run some figures and show me how what you are talking about is viable and in particular when such technology will be available at what capital and operational cost? Alternatively do you have some evidence you can share to support your position on the viability and effectiveness of automated drone deliveries, for pizza or something more important? I like discussing facts and numbers.



  • Moderator

    These will be in many spots before the delivery drone arrives


  • I guess they thought technology and good strong  processor will do the job.

  • It takes about 5 minutes to google what the problems of a tailsitter are. Interesting that the guys at Google didn't find out before starting the project ;-)

  • Great Photo Dez  IoI  

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