Wing joins the 100,000 drone deliveries club

It is a wretched time to be an Arsenal fan right now.

Let me tell you about it – I am an Arsenal fan.

Ending Match Day 3 of the English Premier League with zero goals, zero points, apparently zero prospects of life if the analysis of all the English football pundits in the world is to be believed. I mean, almost all of them already gave the league title to Manchester United after only the first match, so they must be right.

Right?

Makes you wonder really, if football analysts – with all their hyperbole and doomsday prophecies when a football season is only in week three – were moulded from the same school where Amazon Prime Air got the media people that hyped up delivery drone technology as something that could be achieved at the click of a finger.

That was way back in 2013 when Amazon predicted of a near future where drone delivery would be as common as breaking bread in the morning. Seven years later the technology has made progress alright – but not in a way Amazon has imagined.

The breakthrough in delivery drones has not been in parcel delivery, but in medicine; and even then, it has been in rural Africa where the air traffic is light and the need for emergency medical deliveries has been greater. Companies like Swoop Aero, AerialMetric, Wingcopter and Zipline – with the help of donor funding in most cases – found a hole in the fabric of some African health systems and flew their drones to fill it.

Africa of course, has been grateful for the new technology that has bridged the distance between medical supplies and remote rural communities, which previously could only be reached via bumpy paths or rough rivers. Now, countries like Rwanda, Ghana, Nigeria, the DRC and Mozambique are joining the drone bandwagon.

Amazon meanwhile was having a reality check in its England office, which is on the verge of closure after recent revelations of mismanagement and missed promises.

Quite a different story from the one being told by Amazon competitor, Wing, which has just announced that it will be celebrating its 100,000th parcel delivery soon. Most of these deliveries have been in a town called Logan just outside Brisbane in Australia, where Wing has made a home.

The company has made 50,000 deliveries to the homes of Logan residents in the two years it has been in the town, no doubt necessitated by, first the fires of 2019, and then the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Globally, Wing is on pace to surpass the 100,000-customer delivery mark in the next few days – on top of hundreds of thousands of test flights – with over 50,000 of those delivered to Logan customers in the last eight months alone,” the company said last week. “Logan residents ordered almost 4,500 deliveries in the first week of August, meaning that a Logan resident on average received a drone delivery nearly once every 30 seconds during our service hours.”   

Typically, Wing’s delivery process starts with a customer submitting an order via the Wing mobile app. From there, a drone flies to pick up the package at Wing’s delivery facility. The drone then climbs to a cruise height on average of about 45 metres above ground, flying to the designated delivery destination in several minutes. Once at the customer destination, the drone slows down, hovers, descends to a delivery height of seven metres above ground, and then lowers the tether and automatically releases the package in the desired delivery area.

The drone then climbs back to cruise height and returns to the Wing site.

“What distinguishes the Logan operation from the various tests and trials going on around the world, beyond its order volume, is that it is a live, automated, and on-demand service,” the company says. “When an order comes in, Wing’s software systems send the best aircraft to perform the delivery from among Wing’s multiple operations sites. Then, our systems use data about the operational environment – Wing’s software performs and analyses 15 million simulations each day to analyse changes in weather and terrain, stress test our delivery systems and continually improve our routing – to create a custom, optimal path for the aircraft to follow to the very spot the customer selects for delivery, either at their home or in some cases, their office. 

“This technology has enabled our customers in Logan to start their days with more than 10,000 cups of fresh barista-made coffee in the last year, delivered right to their homes. As their kids transitioned to remote-learning, parents have ordered more than 1,700 snack packs to keep break times interesting. And we’ve made more than 1,200 hot chooks (that’s Australian for roasted chicken) fly just in time for dinner.”

As deliveries go, 100,000 deliveries of small parcels will pale in comparison to the over one million that Zipline has made in the course of saving lives in Rwanda, Ghana and other parts of the world. But they are still forward steps nevertheless. Wing figures that unmanned aerial delivery is a scalable option for towns of less than half a million residents: New Orleans in the USA, Manchester in England or Florence, Italy. Wing says it is already in talks to introduce drone-based delivery options to some of these cities.

“More than 2 billion people around the world live in cities with populations fewer than 500,000. Logan’s success implies a not-too-distant future in which similar high-volume drone delivery services could be replicated in similar cities, and even larger metro areas, around the world.”  

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