back to article Wing launches drone deliveries in the US where people actually live

Wing will this Thursday launch a commercial drone delivery service in a major US metropolitan area, a first for the Alphabet-owned startup. The company was spun out of X, Google's moonshot lab, in 2018 to build and operate a drone-delivery business. Since then, Wing has set up operations in Helsinki, Finland, and Canberra, …

  1. HildyJ Silver badge
    Paris Hilton

    Mixed emotions

    At least it's not Amazon, but

    it's Google, but

    ice cream on demand is tempting, but

    how much is this going to cost?

    I guess at the moment ice cream wins.

    1. ShadowSystems Silver badge

      Re: Mixed emotions

      I want to know how they intend on making sure my icecream cone doesn't tip over, spill toppings all over, & wind up arriving as a sodden messy gloop.

      I mean, I can see the benefit of a drone delivering icecream, but do they give refunds if the icecream melts in transit?

      What if the drone gets attacked in flight by a migrating European Swallow? Will there be additional delivery fees for the international round trip?

      Don't mind me, I just crave some icecream topped with Dried Frog Pills...

      1. sanmigueelbeer Silver badge
        Joke

        Re: Mixed emotions

        What if the drone gets attacked in flight by a migrating European Swallow?

        Drones in the US can/will operate air-to-air missiles. Those "migrating" Swallows won't be coming back.

      2. AMBxx Silver badge

        Re: Mixed emotions

        Swallows are the least of their concerns. Lots of gun owners in Texas. If these things were constantly flying over my house, I'd soon start shooting.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Mixed emotions

          That's why they travel in pairs, the second one supresses ground defenses.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Mixed emotions

            That's why they travel in pairs, the second one supresses ground defenses.

            I for one welcome our new Häagen-Dazs cluster bomb dropping overlords...

          2. Snapper Bronze badge

            Re: Mixed emotions

            And the African Swallows, cos dey is musclin in bruv!

  2. Winkypop Silver badge
    Pirate

    Porch pirates?

    Follow that buzzing sound me hearties!

    I think there be loot to be had!!

  3. Tom 7 Silver badge

    The article the other day about hoverfly controlled drones

    means a lot of intercepted supplies. I think the best place to start may be the drugs drops around prisons value wise.

  4. Ken G Bronze badge
    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: so what?

      Another site that attempts to deliver nothing unless it's allowed to use javascript. If I were a potential customer I'd take that as indicative of the whole business's capability of delivering. If you're willing to use what is, in effect, your shop front to demonstrate how your developers fail to cope with anything but the happy path then we have to assume that that will also apply to the service itself.

      1. werdsmith Silver badge

        Re: so what?

        They don’t care Doctor Syntax. You are few and negligible.

  5. Mayday Silver badge
    Childcatcher

    “Pet medications from easyvet“

    Awesome. I need a home delivery ketamine service.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: “Pet medications from easyvet“

      Or some de-wormer for the anti-vaxx crowd?

      1. sanmigueelbeer Silver badge

        Re: “Pet medications from easyvet“

        Or some de-wormer for the anti-vaxx crowd?

        Don't be silly. Anti-vaxers would not want deliveries by drone because they're terrified the government would know exactly where they are.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: “Pet medications from easyvet“

          .. and them fans could cause as much cancer as the big ones as the Orange one alleged..

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Helsinki (FI)?

    Could they deliver cocktails to the east?

    1. Fred Flintstone Gold badge

      Re: Helsinki (FI)?

      Well, they definitely would be shaken :)

      (been binge watching James Bond movies :) )

  7. imanidiot Silver badge

    Pointless

    Completely and utterly pointless waste of capital and resources. Especially in areas with good road networks. It's only a matter of time until:

    - Someone shoots one down

    - Someone gets killed or injured by one of these stupid things

    - One of these things interferes with emergency services (possibly by asshats ordering one to an unsafe location "fer shitz and gigglz")

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Pointless

      "Completely and utterly pointless waste of capital and resources. Especially in areas with good road networks."

      You raise a serious point but not the one you intended. Could this, in fact, be less polluting than road delivery?

      1. ThatOne Silver badge

        Re: Pointless

        > Could this, in fact, be less polluting than road delivery?

        I'm afraid there is no comparison possible because unless you only want a single hamburger (no side dish or drink) or a single bottle of very specific meds, you still have to use terrestrial delivery. This is the solution to nothing at all...

      2. doublelayer Silver badge

        Re: Pointless

        "Could this, in fact, be less polluting than road delivery?"

        At this stage, I think the answer is no. There are several variables that go into the calculation, and I don't have numbers for each one, but here are the things that would contribute to the determination.

        The drones here use batteries and presumably recharge from the grid. That's an advantage over trucks that burn fuel to move. That advantages the drones, but you still have to include the pollution used to generate the power to recharge them. It's likely less as grid power is more efficient than internal combustion engines. However, a vehicle can carry a lot of things on one trip, meaning that a car's emissions can be divided by the number of deliveries it makes in one go while the drone's emissions only cover one delivery. For each delivery they make, there's also the emissions of returning to the recharge point.

        Another issue is the material cost of the drones. I'm guessing they don't last that long, especially the batteries (it's almost certainly lithium ion batteries and they'll be heavily stressed to keep a drone in frequent operation). Cars tend to last a while before large parts go to scrap.

        Finally, there's the part of the operation before the drone gets involved. I don't know how their system works, but I doubt they have a drone launching facility at each location from which they ship. That means the items have to go to that place first, which probably still involves a car. Depending on how they do this, that could remove a lot of the environmental benefit they still had.

        1. Anonymous Coward Silver badge
          Facepalm

          Re: Pointless

          > "but I doubt they have a drone launching facility at each location from which they ship"

          If you watch the video in the article, you'll see that the drones hover and lower a line which the shop assistant attaches a carrier to.

          1. doublelayer Silver badge

            Re: Pointless

            I admit I didn't watch the video, but that would make the drone's travel less efficient. I assumed they would return to recharge and the products would be loaded as they did so, but if they have to land somewhere, recharge, fly to the pickup location, then fly to the customer, they will have to fly even longer distances to make a single delivery. This may be the only functional way to perform the small deliveries, but it won't scale as well as delivering to a launch location and only flying from there.

      3. Cuddles Silver badge

        Re: Pointless

        No. Flight is always going to be more energy intensive than ground travel. An electric drone could be less polluting than a diesel van, but it will lose to an electric van. And that's assuming they're carrying comparable loads; a drone that can only carry a single small item per trip will lose to a fully loaded diesel van that diverts to the arctic to club some baby seals halfway through its delivery run.

        Ultimately, you can follow the money. Why don't we already travel everywhere by flying instead of driving? The technology has been available for decades. Regulations and safety are a factor, but could easily have been covered if there was any real incentive to do so. But despite plenty of efforts to commercialise flying cars, small helicopters for personal use, and so on, none of them have ever gone anywhere for anyone other than the very rich. Why? Because flying is far more expensive than ground travel. And that cost comes down to the fact that it takes more energy. Swapping internal combustion for electric motors doesn't change that.

    2. ThatOne Silver badge

      Re: Pointless

      > utterly pointless waste of capital and resources

      Come on, it's just a fad. Once the novelty wears off people will realize that something that can only deliver a single hamburger (no fries or soda) is way too limited to be of any use.

      And the operators will realize that the economics are sketchy at best. Drones and their batteries are expensive, those batteries will spend as much time recharging as in the air so you'll need a lot of them, and then there are the problems, deliveries gone wrong, lawsuits because your drones hit and damaged something, expensive drones going AWOL due to breakdown or sabotage, and so on, and so on.

      It's just a big PR stunt, when they have burnt enough capital they will close shop and do something else.

      1. werdsmith Silver badge

        Re: Pointless

        On the face of it, it would seem that the Starship delivery robots in various places around the world are being quite successful after a couple of years in service. They trundle around the streets rather than through the air and normally take 30-40 minutes from order to delivery. Also, their load capability is 10kg. The idea of delivery on demand seems valid, but I’m not sure aerial drone is much of an advantage over wheeled robot. Especially when the weather is not helpful. Then again, the wheeled drones can only handle 2 inches of surface snow. Maybe use wheeled robots in most cases and aerial as an alternative where it does actually give a benefit. Like an urgent resupply of insulin out in the sticks.

        1. ThatOne Silver badge

          Re: Pointless

          > Also, their load capability is 10kg.

          Which is why they have uses: 10 kg covers the most frequent deliveries (meals and such), 1 kg doesn't. Also I'm pretty sure a trundlebot's range between charges is way superior to its flying counterpart. As for snow, it doesn't really matter in the big picture, most big urban centers never experience 2 inches of snow (and snow is getting less and less common anyway).

          .

          > an urgent resupply of insulin out in the sticks

          Somebody insulin-dependent living in the sticks who relies on drones to save his life is a Darwin Awards nominee! Besides, your drones wouldn't deliver to "the sticks", their range is far too short. Factor the time to make the trip to and from (and the delivery itself, it's not a bombing run), multiply by the drone's most economic speed, and you get the range. Subtract 20% to factor in adverse conditions (like wind and such), to avoid seeing your expensive drone dropping out of the sky on its trip back.

          1. werdsmith Silver badge

            Re: Pointless

            But the NHS have been trialling inter hospital transfers of stuff like chemotherapy materials using drones for a couple of years. I do know somebody out in the sticks that had their insulin stolen. I’m sure these things are in their embryonic development phase will improve and find their use. I prefer to think that way than to be terminally negative.

          2. doublelayer Silver badge

            Re: Pointless

            "As for snow, it doesn't really matter in the big picture, most big urban centers never experience 2 inches of snow (and snow is getting less and less common anyway)."

            I'm assuming you live in a place that doesn't? A lot of cities do get snow. If your climate is a continental one, common in North America, eastern Europe, or Asia, you probably get snow during the winter. Unless the city is very good at clearing it from everywhere, there will be occasional places where it impedes travel. As the climate warms, we won't see snow vanishing. Temperatures aren't soaring, they're gradually sliding upward. In fact, some places may get additional snowfall as precipitation patterns change. There are large parts of the planet that won't have to deal with this, but just because you live in one doesn't make the issue disappear.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Pointless

      The last of those has already happened. Probably more than once.

      https://www.ktvu.com/news/warrant-issued-for-drone-pilot-accused-of-interfering-with-rescue

    4. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Pointless

      "Completely and utterly pointless waste of capital and resources."

      I'm not sure about the economics of the operation as described. It depends on exactly what the article means in reference to what the "flight operations" staff do. Are they controlling each flight individually from launch to pick-up, drop off and return to base? Or is it a case of the drones being left to their own devices at stages of the flight while the operator is looking after other drones? A flight operator probably gets paid more than a block on a bike or even a van driver. Each delivery is almost certainly going to be very low value, so delivery charges have to be low.

  8. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    "make sure everyone has a good first experience with drone delivery,"

    Then after a few months wear and tear and all the edge cases the frAgile development didn't cover will start to take their toll.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Can I add that this comment is in no way associated with yesterday's experience with an Amazon locker with a no-longer pristine opening mechanism and a help number that doesn't go through to the agent queue but a recorded message telling me to key 1 to get an SMS to get connected to an agent or to use their app if I'd installed it on my phone - or maybe, if I'd listened that long, they mught have told me to go to their site on my computer which was several miles away at home. Silly me expecting a help number to go through to a help line.

      1. ThatOne Silver badge
        Devil

        > Silly me expecting a help number to go through to a help line

        Yes, seriously, what were you thinking!...

        "We take our clients' satisfaction very seriously. Press 1 to buy some more, press 2 to buy something else, press 3 to just give us some money, press 4 to hear this message again."

    2. Throatwarbler Mangrove Silver badge
      Black Helicopters

      I know one of the drone pilots for Wing. Trust me, they have been undertaking extensive testing at the Virginia site for years. These drones and their pilots are also FAA-certified (I know, I know, cue the 737-MAX rants), and Wing has taken pains to hire staff with extensive conventional aircraft and piloting experience to provide leadership and guidance. I can't attest to whether the economics make sense, but Wing appears to be taking ample care to avoid issues with the drones having mishaps in populated areas.

      1. ThatOne Silver badge

        > I can't attest to whether the economics make sense

        From what you say they make less and less sense! "Staff with extensive conventional aircraft and piloting experience" won't usually work for peanuts.

        How much can you charge for delivering one single hamburger with no fries or drink? Drones aren't very fast, so unless all your clients are a stone's throw from your operation center, each drone will make at best 2 deliveries per hour (to and fro, and don't forget loading and delivering), in a 16-hour day this would be (at best) 32 deliveries per drone.

        Now this is a big investment (drones don't grow on trees!), you'll need a heap of spare batteries to keep your fleet in the air at all times, then you need at least one base where your pilots work from, techies repair drones, and all that. Then there are the wages, besides those elite pilots, you'll need drone maintenance staff and IT staff to keep your servers up and running. Probably some sales people harassing shops to add you to their delivery options too. Uh-oh...

        (Didn't downvote you.)

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          It does ratrher sound like Yet Another Disrupter that is going to burn through $billions in VC, subsidising operations until they kill any traditional competition and maybe in 10 years they might IPO before going bust.

          What happened to looking at a service or product and finding a useful niche and hopefully making a decent living out of it? It seems every New Thing has to be world beating and grow huge as fast as possible, full speed ahead and damn the torpedoes. I wonder how many startups go bust trying to be the next MS, Apple, Uber, Facebook etc that might have survived and turned a profit if not for the unrealistic expectations?

  9. Ben1892

    This video was more what I was expecting

    Rather than a sales pitch video, the technology development is pretty interesting https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bdzU4Bws_4k although I still can't see a decent use case for urgent deliveries under 1.5Kg that would warrant the delivery charge - I don't think a chai soy latte counts. But, then again, I thought Twitter was stupid idea

    1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

      Re: This video was more what I was expecting

      I think the sweet spot has already been found, ie delivering high value, low mass produce to places not currently served by traditional home delivery services. Texas seems an odd launch region though. Whilst the drones could deliver a few grams of party supplies, they don't have the payload to lift beer, steaks or ammo.

      This is much the same problem as the cute lil wheeled bots delivering shopping near me. Their cargo bin is about the same size as a shopping basket, so can't deliver a case of beer or 18" pizza.

      1. ThatOne Silver badge

        Re: This video was more what I was expecting

        > delivering high value, low mass produce to places not currently served by traditional home delivery services

        The only thing I see fitting the bill is drugs! They would indeed warrant a steep price for a small mass, but even if we ignore the legality issues, they'd fall foul of the fact that high value deliveries are much more likely to get stolen on the way. Somebody along the flying path is bound to lasso the drone and steal the cargo if it is something of any value.

        As for "places not served by traditional home delivery services", their problem is that they are either too remote and/or not profitable enough, and drones won't change that: You will get the exact same profit from a 5 minutes delivery next door than from a 180 minutes trip to the boonies, except you can make 36 of the former in the same time you'd make the latter. Which means the far delivery would have to be 36 times more expensive, which obviously is commercially impossible, so you'll just refuse to do it and focus on the profitable nearby deliveries.

      2. Ben1892

        Re: This video was more what I was expecting

        +1 for defining "urgent": beer, steaks, ammo, pizza

        1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

          Re: This video was more what I was expecting

          These are all things I've got my Artful Lodger working on. Currently using pizza to train seagulls so they can become my flock of pie rats. Figured they could start there as seagulls don't need much encouragement, while I work on splicing some eagle and octopus DNA into the gulls.

      3. fxkeh

        Re: "Texas seems an odd launch region though"

        I would think they were looking for a large city/metro area that is also low density enough for everyone to have front and back yards to drop the deliveries in. For example, you wouldn't be able to operate the same in somewhere like San Francisco/New York where almost everyone lives in apartments, and even places with more sprawl like the Bay Area or LA there tend to be a lot of low rise condos rather than houses. Or maybe Texas just has lax regulations.

    2. Flywheel
      Black Helicopters

      Re: This video was more what I was expecting

      "I'd like 1Kg of weapons-grade plutonium please, and a roll of tin foil". [Accept]

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