Alphabet’s Wing is working on larger drones capable of handling heavier deliveries

Wing, the drone delivery company operated by Google parent company Alphabet, has unveiled a series of new prototype aircraft designed to handle a variety of payloads. The company said the new drones will share the same underlying components with the aircraft currently used to deliver pharmaceuticals and other small packages to the suburbs outside of Dallas-Fort Worth.

According to Wing CEO Adam Woodworth, the goal is to properly size the delivery industry to match the appropriate package with a similar sized vehicle. “Just as the ideal vehicle for hauling a ton of gravel would be a dump truck rather than a sedan, the ideal plane for transporting a bottle of medicine is not the same as the best for delivering a gallon of milk, and none are suitable for delivering a refrigerator,” Woodworth wrote in a blog post.

In a video, the company showcased a variety of drones of different sizes, including a larger drone that can carry more than seven pounds and a smaller drone designed to carry prescription drugs weighing up to 0.6 pounds. Wing’s flagship drone is designed to handle payloads of up to 2.5 pounds. The company said up to 90% of deliveries today are packages weighing five pounds or less, citing comments from an Amazon executive.

Drone deliveries were meant to revolutionize the movement of goods in cities, with companies like Amazon and Uber promising to set up large-scale operations in the near future. Instead, the technology has mostly focused on small-scale experiments, delivering vaccines and blood to remote locations.

Alphabet's Wing is working on larger drones capable of handling heavier deliveries

In the United States, drone delivery has generally been limited to smaller cities, where land use is less crowded and complex. And some companies have slowed progress, with Amazon’s program in the UK laying off dozens of employees.

Wing has been able to rack up a string of minor successes, recently completing its 250,000th delivery while operating in three countries: the United States, Finland and Australia. Its biggest success was in Logan, Australia: a suburb of Brisbane where more than 50,000 of its total deliveries were made.

The company launched its first commercial service in April in the suburban towns of Frisco and Little Elm, both of which are part of the Dallas-Fort Worth metro area. Wing’s operating model is to park small shipping containers next to participating stores to act as tiny hangers from which Wing’s drones will be deployed. After receiving online orders, employees at each partner store take the items outside and load them into cardboard packaging attached to the drone. Wing’s operations team then flies the drone remotely to customers’ homes.

Alphabet's Wing is working on larger drones capable of handling heavier deliveries

Currently, customers can order items from a limited number of Wing partner stores, including Walgreens, Blue Bell Creameries, Easyvet and Texas Health. Wing hopes to expand its delivery offerings by introducing aircraft of different sizes that can handle smaller or larger packages.

“Aircraft operate more efficiently around a design point,” Woodworth said. “Big planes carry large objects and small planes carry small objects. For planes like ours, these items should typically make up about 25% of the plane’s weight. »

The company did not disclose the timeline on which it would introduce these new drones, stressing that all are still in the prototype phase. Wing isn’t the only company focusing on developing drones that can handle heavier packages. Elroy Air is working on a drone the size of a small plane and capable of carrying up to 700 pounds of cargo with a range of up to 300 miles.


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