Ridesharing is convenient in part because there’s often a vehicle near you, and Alphabet’s Wing wants to extend that advantage to drone delivery. The company is debuting a Wing Delivery Network platform that relies on decentralized and highly automated pickups. Drones charge and deliver in whatever locations make the most sense for the broader system. If demand surges in a given area, more drones can operate around the nearest pads.
Crucially, your local restaurant or store doesn’t have to do much to take advantage of the network. An AutoLoader system lets shops simply latch a package to a curbside pickup location and walk away — the drone handles the rest. Businesses have to order drones, but they don’t have to manage the fleet or make employees wait for an aircraft to arrive.
The technology is also meant to scale elegantly. It’s relatively easy to add new pad locations as usage grows, and the drones can double as scouts that expand the network. The drones can even make sure they’re allowed to fly in a given area.
Wing expects “elements” of the Delivery Network to deploy over the next year, with demonstrations taking place worldwide in 2023. Provided all goes according to plan, the brand wants to handle “millions” of deliveries by mid-2024, at prices that beat conventional ground-based delivery.
There are catches. Drone regulations aren’t always prepared to handle autonomous deliveries, let alone for decentralized systems. Amazon’s Prime Air drones have made few deliveries precisely because of regulatory requirements. Likewise, there’s no guarantee businesses will be willing to invest in drones and adapt their curbside pickup spaces. Wing’s approach is markedly different than seen with other networks, however, and its combination of lightweight drones and gentle deliveries (Amazon’s heavy drones have to drop packages from 12 feet up) may make it more appealing to officials and stores alike.