So, Google has been working on delivery drones in secret for two years. This is, probably, some of the best news that people in the drone industry could have possibly gotten.
That's because, for an industry that's supposedly going to be worth tens of billions of dollars within years of drones getting the Federal Aviation Administration's go-ahead, it doesn't really have that banner company with deep pockets to nudge the FAA into hurrying the heck up with its drone regulations.
Over the last couple years, the FAA has dilly-dallied, frivolously threatened commercial drone pilots, and generally made it clear that it's the biggest obstacle to drone innovation in this country.
That's why Google has been testing its drone tech in Australia and not in Mountain View.
But now, Google's drone program is out in the open, and if there's a company in existence that can sway the FAA on drones, it's Google.
Lockheed, Boeing, and all the major defense contractors have the government's ear, but they're not interested in the small drones that your average business owner cares about.
Jeff Bezos and Amazon were a nice start, but Amazon's sway in Washington is nothing compared to Google's. In 2013, Amazon spent $1.9 million lobbying, according to Open Secrets. Of that, $40k was specifically spent on its drone delivery program—a relative pittance. The Academy of Model Aeronautics, the biggest dog in this fight for the last several decades, spends $60k a year lobbying or less. In 2013, Google spent $16 million lobbying.
Google's influence in DC cannot be denied—the company has become a powerhouse, outspending every other technology company, outspending the cable companies, outspending everyone, really, except for healthcare groups and the Chamber of Commerce.
The question, now, is what sort of regulation will Google lobby for? The company could attempt to sway the FAA to make the barrier to entry for drone companies very high, so that only ones with deep pockets can enter. But that doesn't really seem like the company's style.
It's unclear what, exactly, the company wants to do with its delivery drones, but, in general, the company wants technology to become commonplace and commodified—Google's business has always flourished when tech is accessible to all.
I'd be lying if I said I knew what Google has planned for the future of its drone program, but I'd expect them to lobby for less restrictive regulations for drones, not tighter ones. We'll see in the coming months and years, but it's looking like the drone industry finally got the DC heavy hitter it's been waiting for.
If Google can lobby Congress and states to let people ride in driverless cars, I have no doubt that they'll be able to convince the people in power that they can do drones safely, too.