Wing launches drone delivery system
A recent test in Christiansburg Virginia is seeing commercial items delivered to customers’ doors within minutes of ordering using drones
As of 18 October, Wing, which is owned by Google parent, Alphabet, has been using drones to deliver goods to Walgreens and FedEx customers in a new test being run in a Virginia town.
Wing is the first US company to be given permission by the federal government to conduct the tests, beating out Amazon’s Prime Air service, which unveiled its plans to use drones in 2013.
UPS was given approval to use drones earlier this month from the Federal Aviation Administration, and has been running tests within the WakeMed’s hospital campus in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Wing partnered with Walgreens, FedEx and Sugar Magnolia, a gift shop in the local area, to perform the tests in Christiansburg, Virginia. Walgreens customers have the service open to them on over 100 items, available through its online store, which would then be delivered by drone.
The drones are testing with a 6.5km flight radius, from the Wing distribution facility in Christiansburg, although Wing expects this area will grow in time but has no plans for this in the immediate future. The drones are capable of a 19km round flight before needing be refuelled.
The drones are capable of delivering goods within minutes of them being ordered from the distribution centres. This would also have the added benefit of seeing fewer heavy-duty vehicles on the road, increasing sustainability for involved industries.
Wing CEO, James Ryan Burgess said: "We're looking at trends in cities including congestion and environmental sustainability," he said. "We see drone deliveries as a key part of solutions to these."
Burgess added, during the Australian pilot, that many of the goods being delivered were for food and cold medicines, things people may need and be unable to leave the house to get, improving the quality of life for citizens who have access to the programme. Although the deliveries are not entirely altruistic, with luxury items such as hot coffee also on offer, in partnership with a local coffeehouse. Cups have arrived hot to the door, being delivered within as little as four minutes.
Wing has alluded to plans to expand the service into other towns but hasn’t revealed any firm details as yet.
How innovation is transforming government
According to Washington Technology’s Top 100 list, Leidos is the largest IT provider to the government. But as Lieutenant General William J. Bender explains, “that barely scratches the surface” of the company’s portfolio and drive for innovation.
Bender, who spent three and a half decades in the military, including a stint as the U.S. Air Force’s Chief Information Officer (CIO), has seen action in the field and in technology during that time, and it runs in the family. Bender’s son is an F-16 instructor pilot. So it stands to reason Bender Senior intends to ensure a thriving technological base for the U.S. Air Force. “What we’re really doing here is transforming the federal government from the industrial age into the information age and doing it hand-in-hand with industry,” he says.
The significant changes that have taken place in the wider technology world are precisely the capabilities Leidos is trying to pilot the U.S. Air Force through. It boils down to developing cyberspace as a new domain of battle, globally connected and constantly challenged by the threat of cybersecurity attacks.
“We recognize the importance of the U.S. Air Force’s missions,” says Bender, “and making sure they achieve those missions. We sit side-by-side with the air combat command, intelligence surveillance, and reconnaissance infrastructure across the Air Force. There are multiple large programs where the Air Force is partnering with Leidos to ensure their mission is successfully accomplished 24/7/365. In this company, we’re all in on making sure there’s no drop in capability.”
That partnership relies on a shared understanding of delivering successful national security outcomes, really understanding the mission at hand, and Leidos’ long-standing relationship of over 50 years with the federal government.
To look at where technology is going, Bender thinks it is important to look back at the last 10 to 15 years. “What we’ve seen is a complete shift in how technology gets developed,” he says. “It used to be that the government invested aggressively in research and development, and some of those technologies, once they were launched in a military context, would find their way into the commercial space. That has shifted almost a hundred percent now, where the bulk of the research and development dollars and the development of tech-explicit technologies takes place in the commercial sector.”
“There’s a long-standing desire to adopt commercial technology into defense applications, but it’s had a hard time crossing the ‘valley of death’ [government slang for commercial technologies and partnerships that fail to effectively transition into government missions]. Increasingly we’re able to do that. We need to look at open architectures and open systems for a true plug-and-play capability. Instead of buying it now and trying to guess what it’s going to be used for 12 years from now, it should be evolving iteratively.”