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Drone-delivery specialist Wing lifts lid on its unique aircraft

Drone-delivery specialist Wing recently announced it has conducted around 100,000 drone deliveries since launching trial services in several locations around the world in September 2019.

Now the Alphabet-owned company has released a video (below) revealing more about the aircraft that it uses to make those deliveries, with key personnel offering their thoughts on how the ambitious project is going.

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Wing currently uses two aircraft designs for its drone-delivery services. The first features 12 hover motors and two cruise motors, making it the faster of the two flying machines, while the second design has four cruise motors and a slightly longer wing.

Combining hover and cruise motors allows the aircraft greater maneuverability and speed, making it ideal for the efficient navigation of urban environments.

The delivery process begins when a customer orders an item such as food or a drink via a smartphone app. Wing’s drone depot then fires up one of its autonomous drones and attaches the ordered item to a tether dangling from the aircraft as it hovers in the air. The tether then retracts and the drone flies off to its delivery address no more than six miles away.

When it reaches its destination, the customer will receive an alert on their phone and go outside to receive the order. With the drone hovering overhead, the tether unwinds and sets the item on the ground for the customer to collect.

Wing is currently operating its service in a small number of locations, including Christiansburg, Virginia, and Canberra, Australia.

Expanding the drone-delivery service means convincing local regulators that its aircraft are safe to fly over people.

“When you’re flying close to people, it means that you need to have a certain level of reliability to make the system safe,” Giulia Pantalone, a Wing aerospace engineer, said in the video, adding that “safety is our number one priority.”

Another member of the Wing team said its drone-delivery service can help reduce pollution by taking vehicles off the road and speeding up the time it takes to get ordered items to customers. The video also notes how the service really came into its own during the height of the pandemic, with no-contact deliveries going to customers sheltering at home.

But the service has been opposed by some people who’ve complained about the excessive noise that the drones make when passing overhead. In response, Wing has been working to design quieter aircraft.

Looking ahead, Giulia said she’s excited “for all of the applications that we haven’t thought of yet that other people are going to think of. I can see operations where you want to send something to your friend, and it’s pretty small, and you want to send it to them right now; the peer-to-peer aspects could be really interesting.”

The aerospace engineer added: “I’m sure there are also applications for disaster relief, for emergencies, that people could use this for; it’s a really versatile platform.”

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