A subsidiary of Google’s parent company Alphabet is aiming to develop drone delivery-network technology able to handle millions of orders within 12 months.
The company, Wing, say the technology is being tested “at scale” in Australia, where it’s delivering up to 1,000 packages a day, alongside a trial in the suburb of the Irish capital Dublin. The trial is currently seeing the delivery groceries, prepared food delivery, and even fresh coffee.
These orders are executed through the ‘Wing Delivery Network’, and it comprises three basic hardware elements: the delivery drones, pads where drones take off, land and recharge their batteries, and autoloaders that allow companies to leave packages for collection.
Chief executive Adam Woodworth has compared the delivery system to “more like an efficient data network than a traditional transportation system”.
The drones utilise software that has been designed to avoid creating ‘drone highways’, where every flight passes over the same houses. This way, the drones can pick up, drop off, travel, and charge in whatever pattern makes the most sense for the entire system as opposed to just flying from one base to a customer and back.
The advantage of this drone network as opposed to a traditional delivery system is its ability to adapt to peaks in demand in particular areas, with even logistical issues like charging-pad locations being able to be added quickly should demand surge.
In addition, the system involves a high level of automation. When an aircraft is turned on, the company says it checks it is in the right place, has the right software, and is approved to fly. Ground-based pilots then supervise the fleets of delivery drones to ensure they are operating safely and efficiently.
At present, consumers are not charged extra for drone deliveries, and Wing has not disclosed what they may ultimately cost. But experts believe the financially viability of such drone companies will come from the large number of deliveries they can execute.
Amazon has already been trialling the use of a drone delivery system via its Prime Air, with the speed of drone delivery being attractive to the retail-giant as it promises quicker and quicker delivery. Yet despite launching in middle 2022 with a trial locations in California and Texas, the service has reportedly only made 100 or so deliveries, allegedly due to strict US Federal Aviation Administration.
When speaking of Wing drones, Woodworth said more civil-aviation regulators around the globe were adopting rules that would allow these sorts of operations. Other companies are also reportedly in talks with the Department for Transport and the Civil Aviation Authority about agreeing regulations to allow drone deliveries in the UK.