Project Wing, Alphabet's drone delivery project, needs a new boss.
Dave Vos, who headed the program since 2014, is leaving, and Astro Teller, the current CEO of Alphabet's X "moonshot" umbrella organization, will step in to oversee operations in the interim, MarketWatch reported yesterday.
The change comes as X has struggled to get products out the door, including Google's famed self-driving car program.
Sources had previously described most of X's public projects, which include Project Loon, drones, robotics and wind energy kites, as rudderless, Recode reported in August. X is designed to come up with big, potentially world-changing ideas and decide whether they're worth investing in as future independent businesses — or killing them before they become an expensive waste of time.
Project Wing most recently made headlines in September for flying Chipotle burritos to students at Virginia Tech to test how a drone delivery program might work. Data from the test was shared with the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration to help inform new rules for commercial drone flight.
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Although the burrito-delivery drop came off as more of a PR stunt than a drill aimed at refining a new drone program, it isn't Project Wing's only test.
The X initiative announced it was testing its unmanned aircraft at an unspecified FAA drone test site in August. And Project Wing's website says it previously also tested its technology in 2014 in Queensland, Australia, and has been working to improve its design at labs in Mountain View (where Alphabet is headquartered) and in rural California.
But even so, the X moonshot doesn't seem to be readying for a near future of drone-filled skies as rapidly as Amazon. The online retailer has multiple drone testing sites set up across the world — in the U.K., Canada, the U.S., Austria and Israel — and has been on a global hiring spree to ramp up its engineering staff with aviation expertise.
Vos represented Project Wing in key drone regulatory discussions at the FAA, having co-chaired the agency's task force on drone registration.
But the FAA is still writing the U.S. drone rules, and X will now need to find someone else to be engaged in the ongoing regulatory discussions that will help shape the future of the industry. The next FAA rule-making is slated for December, where regulators will open proceedings to decide how drones will be allowed to fly over populated areas, a critical component of legal drone delivery.
Whereas Amazon has a clear need for drones in online retail and delivery, Alphabet's aspirations seem less clear. Google does have an on-demand ground delivery service, Google Express, where the company has partnered with retailers to open an Amazon Prime Pantry-like marketplace for same-day or next-day delivery of household items. Still, online shopping is Amazon's wheelhouse, and it makes sense for the company to move into delivery.
Teller, who is stepping in to manage Project Wing, has a fairly full plate. He also heads X's Project Loon, the balloon-based beaming internet project; Google's self-driving car project; and Makani, X's kite-based wind power initiative.
A rep for X did not immediately respond to Recode's request for comment.