Many of the innovations Google’s parent company Alphabet is developing have far-reaching implications for logistics. Next to technologies like self-driving vehicles, they are also working on drones that can be used for last-mile delivery. This drone division is called Wing, after the design of its drones.
The Wing Drone
The Wing Drone is an H-shaped drone with, you guessed it, a wing. It has twelve hover motors with upward-facing propellers for vertical take-off and hovering and two (or four depending on the model) cruise motors with forward-facing propellers for forward speed. Because of this design, it can both hover and move fast—the perfect combination for an airborne delivery system. The drone can carry up to 3 pounds (1.36 kg), and it can reach speeds of up to 113 kilometres per hour. Its speed enables Wing to make good on its promise to deliver anything in a range of 6 miles (almost 10 km) within 6 minutes. Its design is simple, and the drones are relatively easy to produce at a reasonable cost, which comes in handy. Wing has big ambitions for drone delivery.
The drones operate autonomously and only need to come down to recharge their batteries. With the scale Wing has in mind, automation is essential. Just think about the number of drone pilots you would need! There already is a driver shortage, and we don’t need to add a drone pilot shortage to that.
From Order to Delivery
When an order has come in, it is assigned to a drone, which then hovers about 20 feet (6 meters) above the ground. The order is put in recyclable packaging designed specifically for the Wingdrone. The package is attached to a grappling hook on a winch. The drone reels in the package and flies to the customer. There, it again hovers 20 feet above the ground, making sure it keeps its distance from humans and pets alike. The winch drops the package to the ground, where it is released. The drone reels in the hook again and returns to its base station.
Wing has been testing the drones in Australia, Finland and the United States. In all three countries, it has pilot projects (pun intended, these are autonomous drones) where it delivers food orders. Food delivery is ideal for testing drone delivery: it is on-demand and needs to be delivered fast, especially with heated food. Deliveries need to be made without breakage or spillage. Since the start, they have made over 100,000 deliveries, so they have proven that things like grocery items, drones can deliver sandwiches and coffee safely and efficiently.
Hardware and Software
Wing not only develops hardware, the drones that deliver the goods. They are also working on a software platform that will enable drones and manned aircraft to operate in the same airspace together. When drones delivering a package become as common as vans, it could become quite busy in the skies over our heads. While one of the benefits of drone delivery, according to Wing, is that it reduces the number of vans in the street, it might cause congestion and noise over our heads.
These drones could be used for much more than just delivering food. Any item would do, but they are especially suitable for urgent items. This could be a missing ingredient when you are cooking or some supplies when you are renovating the house, but also more critical things like medication.
For now, they have been operating as a B2C delivery service, but they could also work as a peer-to-peer delivery service in time. If you are lucky, drones might be lining up in the sky over your house when it is your birthday.
The drones are also useful in case of disasters or emergencies. They could drop off relief or emergency supplies in hard to reach areas. I will be following these developments with interest and can’t wait for Wing to start operations in Rotterdam. I will be among the first to have something delivered by drone, even if it is just a coffee and a sandwich…
Watch the video to see the drones in action.
Header Image: Wing