More goods are being moved from place to place than ever before, but environmental costs and inefficiencies are still high
From steamships to railroads, from the Pony Express to modern delivery services like FedEx and DHL, advances in how we move goods from place to place have helped reshape the world. Moving goods around our cities has become harder and costlier. Our networks of roads are heaving under the pressure of increasing traffic congestion, and the growing demand for faster delivery. Whether it’s the parent stuck at home with sick kids and no dinner, or the tradesmen on a site missing a tool, current methods of road transportation are not always fast enough to solve the problem at hand. The transportation of goods has also added to the increase of CO2 gases emitted into the atmosphere — in the U.S. alone, 28% of greenhouse gas emissions come from transportation.
Wing is an autonomous delivery drone service aiming to increase access to goods, reduce traffic congestion in cities, and help ease the CO2 emissions attributable to the transportation of goods. Wing is also developing an unmanned traffic management (UTM) platform that will allow unmanned aircraft to navigate around other drones, manned aircraft, and other obstacles like trees, buildings and power lines.
Wing has developed an air delivery service that’s faster, safer, and more ecologically friendly than what’s possible today on the ground.
Home delivery of food, medical supplies, and groceries
In 2012, the team initially set out to explore how drone delivery could safely and quickly deliver everything from medicine to food. They designed a system that could bring defibrillators to people having a heart attack with the hope that lives could be saved if the devices arrived faster in the air. The team soon learned that integration into emergency medical services was its own huge task — developing safe and reliable drone technology was a challenge unto itself. So, they honed their focus on redesigning the system to transport small packages, across many everyday situations, where the speed of delivery was a significant factor.
Over the next year, the Wing team investigated different approaches to vehicle design, built prototypes, and ran experiments and test flights. The goal was to learn as much as possible, as quickly as possible, to improve the safety systems and precise navigation required to operate in the congested modern world.
The team completed their first real-world deliveries in 2014 in rural Queensland, Australia where they successfully transported a first-aid kit, candy bars, dog treats, and water to farmers. Then in September 2016, the team delivered burritos to students at Virginia Tech in what was, at the time, the largest and longest drone delivery test on U.S. soil. Food was a great early test case for Wing’s technology because it’s fragile and temperature sensitive and therefore needs to be delivered quickly and carefully.
In 2017, the team focused on refining how the delivery drones transport packages directly to suburban yards. They completed hundreds of deliveries to the yards of several homes in the Australian Capital Territory and Queanbeyan regions of Australia. The goal was to determine how to find the best route to a home and how to find a safe delivery spot in the yard. The Wing team is continuously learning how drone delivery might be useful in people’s everyday lives by transporting meals, groceries, medicine, and even spare car parts in the event of a breakdown.
Autonomous, lightweight delivery drones
Operating a drone delivery service
The team graduated from X to become an independent Alphabet business in July 2018. Since then, Wing launched a first-of-its-kind, on-demand service on three continents, delivering everything from medicine and library books, to hot coffees and fresh cookies to real customers in Australia, Finland and the United States. The team has conducted more than 100,000 flights to date, and its fastest real-world delivery time so far is 2 minutes and 47 seconds.