Wing, the drone delivery business run by Google parent Alphabet, has begun delivering packages using drones. The drone delivery wing of Alphabet is flying packages from a number of businesses to residents of the Dallas area in Texas. This first delivery in Texas will be a watershed moment for the unmanned aerial system (UAS) that was conceived more than a decade ago.
Starting Thursday, Wing began delivering packages from the pharmacy chain Walgreens to residents of Little Elm and Frisco in Texas. Wing says it is starting small in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex covering the north of the city. However, the drone delivery arm of Google parent has much bigger ambitions.
Drone delivery will be all about speed
The use of unmanned aerial systems (UAS) or a drone for delivery of smaller but essential goods has been proposed for nearly a decade now. However, the lack of regulatory framework and proven demonstration of safe working in a residential environment kept the technology from taking off. Now, the drone delivery business run by tech giant and Google parent Alphabet is showing the path forward.
Like Alphabet-backed Waymo, which is building autonomous vehicles, Wing is also starting small with its drone delivery service. “We’re going to be starting small in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, with service to tens of thousands of suburban homes in the City of Frisco and Town of Little Elm,” says Adam Woodworth, CEO of Wing.
It is limiting the delivery to packages from the pharmacy chain Walgreens initially. However, Wing has plans to expand the drone delivery option to other businesses in the Dallas-Fort Worth suburb. The drones from Wing will eventually be able to deliver ice cream from Blue Bell Creameries, prescription pet medications from Easyvet, and first-aid kits from Texas Health.
“This is an important milestone for Wing and drone delivery in the U.S. It simply would not have been possible without the support of the public officials and the citizens of Frisco and Little Elm, and our merchant partners,” Woodworth adds in a company blog.
Drones have the proven potential of delivering certain goods faster than trucks and cars since they don’t need to sit in traffic. Wing has proven that it can safely deliver packages and has been racking up experience navigating the skies. While the expansion to Texas is a big moment, Wing already delivers in Canberra, Australia, Helsinki, Finland, and Christiansburg, Virginia.
It has reportedly delivered more than 2,00,000 packages, including 1,000 deliveries in a single day in Canberra. With a population of about 7 million, the Dallas-Fort Worth area could prove to be the most challenging yet for Wing’s drone delivery system.
A store to door model
For years, tech companies have dreamt and portrayed this dream of a drone delivering your next coffee or pizza order right at your doorstep. However, the difficulty with regulatory approvals have taken them longer than previously imagined to take to the skies and deliver essentials from local stores.
In order to ease those regulatory approvals, Wing adopted a “store to door” approach. With this model, a retail employee will process the order and load packages on the drones. A single pilot is responsible for overseeing multiple drones as they fly and complete the deliveries.
Drone delivery from @Wing has officially begun in @CityOfFriscoTx! It’s great to serve in a community that uses innovative technology to meet community needs & reduce traffic on roads. Best of all the drones deliver Blue Bell Ice Cream! @ILoveBlueBell #OneFuture pic.twitter.com/s3NtWYa4Qb— David Shilson (@FriscoPDChief) April 7, 2022
The drones used by Wing take off vertically from a hub, also referred to as a “nest” and rely on an array of 12 upward-pointing propellers. They also have four forward-pointing propellers on a conventional wing to accelerate the drone horizontally at speeds of up to 70mph (approximately 112kmph), which is quieter and energy efficient than other quadcopter designs.
Once it reaches the destination, Wing’s drones hover at an altitude of 23 feet and lowers the package to the ground using a retractable tether and hook mechanism. Wing is ensuring that it does not raise alarm bells among residents by delivering small packages like a book or medicines or a cup of coffee.
The residents of Dallas Fort-Worth, Texas can order using the Wing app on their phones and the company is not charging any extra fee for delivery. An Axios poll this week found that the majority of adults (about 63 per cent) think that allowing private companies to use unmanned drones to deliver packages to their customers is a “bad idea.”
The older and middle-aged adults are wary about the use of technology like drones to deliver packages. In Christiansburg, where Wing offers delivery, a survey by University of Virginia found that 87 per cent of respondents viewed the technology positively.
While drone deliveries are still not as common as Amazon delivery trucks, there are a number of companies experimenting in the space including Amazon, Matternet, Walmart, Flytrex, Manna, Zipline, MissionGo, UPS, and Wingcopter.