Wing, the sister company of Google and one of the most promising drone deliveries out there, gave us an exciting glimpse into its future. Wing this month shared designs of a variety of delivery drone prototypes.
Now, there’s no guarantee we’ll actually see this be built into an actual model, nor is there any indication that any of these would be put into actual operation. But these delivery drone prototypes provide excellent insight into how Wing is thinking about its delivery drones.
Outside of Wing, we’ve seen delivery drones take a multitude of forms. Germany-based Wingcopter touts its patented tilt-rotor mechanism found on its drones including the Wingcopter 198, which allows it to exceed the range and payload capabilities of most commercial multicopter drones. That drone has a wide center of gravity for flexible payload attachments, in theory making it an optimal drone for cargo delivery.
Another drone delivery company, Flytrex, mostly operates a model where its drones land and can be handled by staff. Then there’s Zipline, which operates more like a plane. Its drones launch from a special mechanism and is able to fly long distances, dropping packages when the drone flies over the delivery point through what’s essentially a parachute system.
Wing’s current drone design
But before we get to the other prototype ideas, here’s a look at the current Wing drone:
The current Wing drone design doesn’t actually have the aircraft land at the delivery point. Instead, the drone slows to a hover and descends vertically to about 23 feet above the ground, and then it lowers your package through a tether-type mechanism. The lightweight Wing airframe is covered in foam and frangible components — intentionally designed that way in order to improve safety should the drone crash to the ground.
Read more: 6 things to know about Wing delivery drones
Wing drones are currently being used for a range of smaller projects around the U.S. and Australia, including delivering Walgreens items near Dallas, Texas and Fedex packages to homes in Virginia. Earlier this year, Wing crossed a milestone 200,000 commercial drone deliveries made.
Wing delivery drone prototypes give glimpse into future plans
That’s now, but what could future Wing drones look like? Check out these design ideas:
Of course, while each of the Wing delivery drone prototypes is unique, all of the new designs share the same underlying components with the company’s primary version of an operational drone that it has used to complete more than 250,000 real-world, commercial deliveries with. Using those same components, Wing says, allows its designers and engineers to quickly iterate on drone design without having to redesign the plane from the ground up.
So with that, here’s a glimpse of some of the most interesting Wing delivery drone prototypes:
This first prototype appears to deviate from the current model where items drop from below by showing a top-loading model.
In this design, it’s evident that sizing is up for consideration. A bigger drone can carry bigger stuff. Wing said that the “stuff” should equate to about 25 percent of the mass of the plane.
“Moving away from that ratio means excess aircraft for the goods being carried, translating to more cost, more energy, and more materials expended,” according to Wing. “This can create a spiral: extra hardware necessitates a bigger plane with more battery and bigger motors, which, in turn, requires an even bigger plane with even more battery and even bigger motors.”
The car including in this design is interesting not just for scale, but also to illustrate how inefficient cars can be for deliveries. In most cases, the “stuff” cars carry represent less than 0.1 percent of the actual mass of the vehicle.
These next prototypes show how Wing is looking for ways to evolve aircraft configurations from a proven foundation and tailor them to a broad range of uses including delivery of food, medicine and other goods, as well as supply chain optimization and emergency response.
Wing says its mindset is “solving the hard problems first, prototyping the design for later use.”
In some cases, Wing said the challenge may be addressing a particular challenging aerodynamics riddle, while in other instances it could be a packaging puzzle of how to integrate a big box into a not-so-big plane.
Wing’s prototype release also indicates that Wing likely won’t be married to just one drone design. Just as one car company might make a sedan (great for city driving), a minivan (great for families) and a truck (great for rough terrains and transporting bulky items), Wing looks to be eager to develop different types of drones for different types of situations.
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.
Interested in learning more? Read Wing’s full post here.