If you’re looking for a good meal in Australia, you may not have to visit a local restaurant or grocery store. Just place your order online and the delivery company DoorDash will bring it to you – by drone. DoorDash recently contracted with the drone technology firm Wing, a subsidiary of Alphabet, which owns Google, to manage its remote delivery service in Australia, a nation known for being extremely drone “friendly.”
DoorDash’s Wing drones aren’t flying everywhere – just in selected locales. And the company is limiting the weight of its deliveries – mostly items like milk and eggs – to just a kilo or less. Why the restriction? Heavier payloads place a drag on a drone’s battery power, which is fairly limited, usually permitting a mere 25 minutes of flight time before recharging is required.
But DoorDash and Wing may also be bowing to national labor restrictions, which are tougher in Australia than elsewhere. Delivery drivers in Australia can earn higher fees on heavier package deliveries – which also yield higher tips. Now DoorDash customers can get a sample of the company’s drone service without threatening its drivers’ incomes.
Wing’s drone system is unique in the world of aerial package delivery. The company’s drone is a combination propeller and fixed winged aircraft that takes off vertically but then converts to forward flying. The craft also operates completely autonomously; all Wing flights are pre-programmed and route optimized. Even with limited battery power, Wing drones can still cover a distance of 4 miles, far in excess of the usual “last mile” delivery limit for drone package deliveries.
Wing has been operating in Australia long before its current partnership with DoorDash. The company claims to have completed 1,000 deliveries per day and recently surpassed a 100,000 total delivery milestone. And that’s just Australia. Wing is also operating in the US in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area, in partnership with Walgreens, Blue Bell Creameries and Texas Health.
Coincidentally, Walmart just began drone aerial deliveries in the same area, with its own technology partner, Drone-Up. The two companies deny they’re competing, however. Wing also boasts a command center that allows its employees to monitor all of the company’s drone flights nationwide. A separate Wing drone command center has been established at the company’s corporate headquarters in Palo Alto, California.
The Federal Aviation Administration has taken special note of Wing’s drone capabilities, extending approval for long-distance autonomous flights and even granting the company the status of an airline. Wing has plans to build more drones with a mix of lighter and heavier payload capabilities. Some smaller drones will be equipped to carry small items like pill bottles while others might carry cargo weighing as much as seven pounds.
“The intent here is to build a robust R&D pipeline so the company can be prepared with a bunch of different aircraft that can meet different use cases,” Wing CEO Adam Woolworth said last July.