Unmanned aerial vehicles will soon be able to collect and distribute orders at multiple locations.
Alphabet's Wing drone delivery business is upping the ante with a new network of linked aircraft capable of picking up, dropping off, and recharging in unique patterns.
This Wing Delivery Network will roll out over the next year, allowing flying bots to collect and distribute orders from multiple stores to different customers throughout the day.
"The only future for drone delivery is a level of scale that's commensurate with other forms of delivery. I'm talking about millions and millions of boxes every day," Wing CEO Adam Woodworth said in a video (below). "When you get to that scale you start to have to solve very different problems. We've been doing a lot of work over the last several years to try to pre-solve some of these problems that you'd encounter when you get to real national scale.
"As you start to look at what those problems are, as you start to look at what the technologies to support them are, it becomes less and less about the airplane," he continued. "It becomes less and less about the support hardware and more about the network of capabilities that you have to put together."
Woodworth wants to move away from centralized hubs that require return trips to pick up another package before making the next delivery. Ideally, it'll run a collection of regional pads based at one retailer where drones can reside and charge when not in use.
"All of this can be done at the time that an order is placed and it can be dynamic and responsive to the needs of that region at any given time," Woodworth said, likening the process to ridesharing, which typically deploys cars from the customer's nearest location rather than having fixed routes.
The network is managed by logistics automation software that covers three basic hardware elements: delivery drones, pads, and AutoLoaders for curbside pickup.
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Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, curbside pickup has become commonplace for restaurants and shops, allowing folks to collect orders without leaving their car. Similarly, Wing's AutoLoader contraption, installed in specific parking lot spaces, will allow an employee to leave a package ready for autonomous pickup.
"What this allows us to do is offer the ability to pick up to many more retailers and many more potential partners," according to Woodworth. "The whole point of this is to make it so that drone delivery is part of the rest of delivery."
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