Google’s sister company Wing is adding complex route management and self-loading capability to its drone delivery fleet, making it capable of handling tens of millions of deliveries for millions of consumers across the world. by mid-2024, CEO Adam Woodworth said.
Wing is testing small and medium scale drone delivery in 10 global locations including Queensland, Australia and the Dallas-Fort Worth area. It hit 100,000 total drone deliveries two years ago, launched mall-to-home drone delivery in early 2021, and unveiled an “aircraft library” in mid-2022 so it can quickly build effective drones for several different tasks.
Now the company is adding hands-free pickup and smarter drone management in preparation for scaling the service.
“Until now, the industry has focused on the drones themselves – designing, testing and iterating on aircraft, rather than figuring out how best to operate an entire fleet for efficient delivery,” says Woodworth. . “We see large-scale drone delivery being more like an efficient data network than a traditional transportation system. As in many other areas of technology, from data centers to smartphones, physical hardware is not as useful as the software and logistics networks that make it meaningful for organizations and their customers.
In other words, Wing’s drones won’t just fly point-to-point: fly from a hub (Wing calls them “pads”) to a retailer, pick up a package, deliver the package, and return. at the hub. . Instead, they’ll follow complex, ever-changing routes as needs change, picking up, dropping off, recharging as needed at various hubs and acting, for all intents and purposes, like an Uber in the skies that don’t. ever need to go “home.”
A new key component: autoloaders.
Autoloaders allow store staff to preload a delivery package and walk away. The package is kept in the autoloader – a small tower with V-shaped arms that fits into part of a parking space – until a drone flies by and autonomously picks it up.
“Our automated network will select a drone to pick up the package and deliver it to a customer, eliminating the need for employees to wait for a drone to arrive to load the package,” a Wing representative told me via email. -mail. “For a retailer, this will make loading drones as easy as handing it over to a delivery driver on demand.”
Google demonstrates the process in a video:
Another game-changer that allows Wing to operate its drone fleet as an integrated multi-hop system is the company’s drones themselves.
Unlike most delivery drones, they fly like an airplane while having the ability to hover and maneuver like a drone. This means Wing has the ability to fly long distances efficiently, using fewer batteries than drones that have to expend power just to stay airborne for every second of every flight.
The result: longer flight times, more efficient battery usage and, essentially, longer uptime.
Wing is clearly looking to evolve very soon. While the company has made 300,000 deliveries to date, Woodworth is preparing to dream big: tens of millions of deliveries for millions of customers. Essentially, this means standardizing drone delivery for the masses.
And, of course, for local businesses.
“Building last-mile drone delivery can be as simple as ordering drones, turning them on, and letting them connect to the network,” he says. “Wing Delivery Network can also automate regulatory compliance – every time an aircraft is turned on, it verifies that it is in the right place, has the right software, and is ready and approved to fly. “
Wing is targeting mid-2024 for this kind of scale, touting 15-minute “store-to-door” delivery times at low cost and with 50 times the efficiency of gas-powered cars and delivery trucks.
The question, however, is whether the regulatory environment in the United States will also be ready by then.