A council area in Queensland has been deemed the “drone delivery capital of the world” as Alphabet’s Wing proves the value of a driverless delivery service.
Wing already notched up over 50,000 local deliveries this year in Logan – a council district between Brisbane and the Gold Coast which Wing spokesperson Jesse Suskin said resembles “a lot of cities in Australia and globally”.
“If we can do drone delivery here then we can do it in other cities,” Suskin told Information Age.
“Wing really solves for something in Logan. A lot of homes are single family homes; they’re often young families with two working parents who aren’t in walking distance from the shops or a decent café.
“Maybe they realise they need a loaf of bread for school lunches or want a quick meal but don’t want to run to the store.”
Consumers are probably quite familiar with delivery services by this stage of the pandemic: you go on an app, select what food or groceries you want, and then a delivery driver drops the items at your house some time later.
Replace the delivery driver with an autonomous drone, and you essentially have Wing.
Once the package has been prepared, it is clipped onto a cable dangling beneath the hovering aircraft. The drone then retracts the cable and climbs to 45 metres in the air before zipping toward its destination at around 110km/h.
When it gets to your home, office, or construction site, the drone finds a clear space – like a driveway or backyard – hovers to a few metres off the ground and lowers the package.
The whole processes generally takes just a few minutes.
“Often it takes longer to prepare item than it does to fly it out,” Suskin said.
“There’s obviously not a lot of traffic or stop signs in the sky.”
Wing’s record delivery took just two minutes and 47 seconds from the time the order was placed to the time it touched down.
All sorts of items are being escorted along the skies of Logan including hot coffees, roast chickens, sushi, and hardware for building sites.
The idea of drone fleets buzzing around neighbourhoods delivering packages appears to be a more distant reality than Wing’s experience in Logan and Canberra has proven.
Just last month, reports surfaced that Amazon’s own drone delivery project was on the brink of collapse. Insiders described a dysfunctional working environment and poor management of the project that was “one gigantic oversell”.
Wing, on the other hand, appears to have gotten the fundamentals of its business right without making promises it can’t deliver. The company is a subsidiary of Alphabet, owner of Google, and is looking to take technological innovation beyond internet services.
“Drones in general are new, and drones for delivery are very new,” Suskin told Information Age.
“Doing this right in the first few years in any city is a big educational piece because aviation, by its nature, is hard regardless of whether you’re flying a 5kg styrofoam drone or an A380.
“But now we’re growing faster than ever, and a lot of that has to do with our working alongside regulators and the community.”
For Suskin, Wing’s focus on regulatory and community support has been as important as getting the technology right.
“This technology occurs in entire neighbourhoods and so we have to operate in a neighbourly way,” he said.
“In Logan, before Wing they didn’t see a lot of drones flying overhead every day so it was a new prospect and we found community outreach was an important first step.
“We did drone demonstrations so people could hear for themselves that it wouldn’t be as loud as they might think.”
The result has been a community uptake which saw Wing make a delivery every 30 seconds on average during Queensland’s last lockdown in early August – something that Suskin thinks is proof of the scalability of the business model.
But as Wing looks to expand into other parts of Australia, don’t expect to see its drones zipping between office blocks in capital cities.
“We want to be in places where we actually solve for something,” Suskin said.
“And we don’t solve for as much in the heart of Sydney of Melbourne where there is a coffee shop on most corners.”