Can Delivery Drones Fly in the Rain? Wing’s Drones Can
BY Zacc Dukowitz3 May 2023
Drone delivery company Wing says it often gets asked whether its drones can fly in the rain.
The answer? Absolutely.
These harsh weather capabilities are the result of Wing putting its drones through their paces, testing them in inclement weather to ensure they’ll be able to fly in a variety of conditions.
The company has conducted rain testing in Alaska and north of Helsinki, Finland, where rain, cold, strong winds, and other types of harsh weather are common. Testing conditions have also included high heat, notably in the hot summers of Texas.
To date, we’ve delivered over 300,000 orders in locations with varying climates, wind, and heat conditions.
– Statement from Wing
Sites Set on Scaling Drone Delivery
These tests are part of Wing’s larger aspirations to significantly scale its drone delivery operations, an effort that will require drones to be able to deal with the same conditions that ground-based delivery vehicles face.
But dealing with harsh weather is just one piece of the puzzle.
The big picture is Wing’s new proposed delivery network, a decentralized approach to drone delivery that will allow it to scale from thousands of deliveries a year—barely a drop in the bucket compared to the annual need—to millions.
Wing’s goals are ambitious, and focused on this level of growth. According to its CEO, the company wants to be making millions of deliveries by next year.
The only future for drone delivery is a level of scale that’s commensurate with other forms of delivery. [We’re] talking about millions and millions of boxes every day.
– Adam Woodworth, CEO of Wing
Wing’s new network shakes up the traditional delivery model, in which a warehouse or fulfillment center acts as a hub. In that model, drones deploy from and return to the hub, making a single delivery before returning for more items to deliver.
In Wing’s model, a drone may deploy from a hub, but then it will stay out in the field making several more deliveries, similar to how an Uber driver may make one ride and then pick up another ride, and continue on.
Autoloader stations are a key part of this new decentralized model. These stations allow Wing’s delivery drones to pick up packages while out in the field, letting them stop at a pharmacy, a restaurant, or a retail store to get packages, deliver them, then continue on to the next package pickup without having to return to a hub.
The network model is sophisticated, but also simple enough to work.
A crucial piece of its success will be the ease with which people can interact with the autoloader. If Wing can make it easy enough to prepare packages for pickup so that anyone, anywhere can quickly learn how to do it, the network has a high chance of succeeding.
And the infrastructure is already there. As Wing has pointed out, curbside delivery—which went fully mainstream during the pandemic—provides all the space and behavior-adaptation needed for drones and autoloaders. As Wing sees it, its drones can pick up packages in a dedicated bay, right alongside a driver for Instacart. (And one day, Wing would probably like to replace that driver.)
But for all of this to work, Wing’s delivery drones will need to be tough enough to fly in extremes of heat and cold, as well as when it’s windy or rainy.
Expanding in Australia
As far as actually making drone deliveries goes, Wing has been very successful with in the U.S.
In October of 2019 the company launched the first ever consumer drone delivery program in Christiansburg, Virginia. Since then, it has also launched a delivery program in the Dallas-Fort Worth area in Texas.
But it also operates in Australia, and has made strides there to expand its drone delivery services.
The most recent addition to Wing’s delivery work in Australia is a new program in the City of Ipswich, Queensland, which launched last month. To build the program, Wing partnered with the Ipswich City Council, working closely with them to help roll out the new service.
The Ipswich drone program is being conducted in partnership with DoorDash, allowing people to search “drone delivery” within the DoorDash app and order both food and retail items.
Deliveries originate from a major shopping center called Orion Springfield Central. The drones are housed on the roof of the shopping center, where they’re loaded, take off, and return for charging.