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Wing builds bigger and smaller drones for more deliveries

One of the leading companies in the drone delivery game has taken the wraps off several new autonomous aircraft that it aims to deploy as it continues to build out its platform.

Wing CEO Adam Woodworth, who took the reins at the Alphabet-owned company in February, spoke about why his team decided to design and build several new prototype drones for a commercial delivery service that it’s been testing in Australia, Finland, Virginia, and, more recently, in a couple of Dallas suburbs.

The team came up with the plan after considering how it might be able to improve the overall efficiency of its drone delivery system. For several years Wing has been testing a fixed-wing vertical-takeoff-and-landing aircraft, and so engineers took what they learned from that machine and applied it to the building of smaller and larger drones capable of carrying different-sized packages.

Woodworth explained the team’s thinking behind the new designs in a video shared online on Thursday, July 14.

The Aircraft Library | Wing

“Here at Wing we spend a lot of time thinking about how to move packages through the sky,” Woodworth said in an accompanying blog post. “Solving the problem of on-demand delivery will always require a variety of vehicles. Just as the ideal vehicle for carrying a ton of gravel would be a dump truck rather than a sedan, the ideal aircraft to carry a bottle of medication is not the same as the best one to deliver a gallon of milk, and neither is suited to deliver a refrigerator.”

He said that the team is constantly experimenting with new designs that draw on the core elements of its current tried-and-tested drone, allowing engineers to “focus the new design work on a shorter list of new and unique tasks, knowing that the brain of the system remains the same.”

Woodworth added: “We can have tiny planes for pharmaceutical delivery, big planes for shipping fulfillment, long-range aircraft for logistic flights, and dedicated hovering platforms for delivery in cities.”

Wing’s current drone delivery system allows select customers to order a variety of items — including food, drink, and medicines — from local businesses using an app. The ordered item is then placed inside a small box and attached to the drone’s tether. When a drone reaches the customer, it lowers the item to the ground, drops it off, and then returns to base.

It’s taken Wing years to launch its prototype services, but Alphabet has stuck with the project and allowed the team to experiment with aircraft designs and delivery systems. The final decision as to whether Wing and competing firms will ever be in a position to launch full-fledged drone delivery services rests with the Federal Aviation Administration, which needs to be convinced of drone safety, especially when flying over people and urban areas.

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Trevor Mogg
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