Wing, the drone delivery company operated by Google parent company Alphabet, will launch its first commercial service in the US on April 7. The company’s quadcopters will be available for “tens of thousands” of homes in the suburbs of Frisco and Little Elm, both of which are part of the Dallas-Fort Worth metro area, the company said.
Customers can order items from a limited number of stores that partner with Wing, including Walgreens, Blue Bell Creameries, Easyvet and Texas Health. Wing’s operating model involves parking small shipping containers next to participating stores to act as small hangers from which Wing’s drones will be deployed. After receiving online orders, employees from each partner store take the items outside and load them into a cardboard package attached to the drone. Wing’s operations team then remotely sends the drone to the customer’s homes.
Drone deliveries are said to revolutionize the movement of goods through cities, with companies like Amazon and Uber pledging to set up large-scale operations in the near future. Instead, the technology has focused primarily on small-scale experiments, delivering vaccines and blood to remote locations. In the US, drone delivery is generally limited to smaller cities, where land use is less crowded and complex. And some companies have faltered in their progress, with Amazon’s program in the UK laying off dozens of workers.
Wing has been able to achieve a string of minor successes and recently completed its 200,000th delivery in three countries: the US, Finland and Australia. The biggest success was in Logan, Australia, a suburb of Brisbane where more than 50,000 of the total deliveries have been made.
Wing has been testing its service in suburban Dallas since last year, and the decision to launch a commercial service is a sign of the company’s growing confidence in the technology. “This is an important milestone for Wing and drone delivery in the US,” Wing CEO Adam Woodworth said in a blog post.
Like sister company Waymo, Wing is focused on incremental improvements before pulling the lever for large-scale deployment. The company has also set up a facility at Frisco Station, a mixed-use and local tourist destination north of Dallas. That facility has delivery capabilities and, according to Wing, will be “initially dedicated to exploring new use cases, community demonstrations and public tours.”
Wing’s drones can operate both as a fixed-wing aircraft and as a hovering helicopter. Unlike Amazon’s delivery drones, the planes also don’t have to land to deliver goods. Wing’s craft flies to their location, descends to a height of seven meters and then lowers their packages on a chain, automatically releasing them to the ground.