Here at Wing we spend a lot of time thinking about how to move packages through the sky. Solving the problem of on-demand delivery will always require a variety of vehicles. Just as the ideal vehicle for carrying a ton of gravel would be a dump truck rather than a sedan, the ideal aircraft to carry a bottle of medication is not the same as the best one to deliver a gallon of milk, and neither is suited to deliver a refrigerator.
Aircraft operate most efficiently around one design point. Big planes carry big stuff, and small planes carry small stuff. For planes like ours, typically that stuff should be about 25 per cent 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. 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. Cars, which perform most of today’s on-demand deliveries, are the ultimate example of this mismatch, where the stuff being carried represents less than 0.1 per cent of the mass of the vehicle.
In our operations today we’ve demonstrated the significant potential for drone delivery, and have shown that with our current aircraft we can move a large portion of existing on-demand goods. The delivery ecosystem is immense, and our R&D folks are always exploring different ways to serve this space. Transportation has and will continue to be multimodal, and Wing’s design approach aims to address this. We’ve developed a core set of hardware and software components that can be used to create a variety of different vehicles tailored for specific use cases: an aircraft library. While we’ve been accumulating hundreds of thousands of delivery cycles on these core components in our Hummingbird series aircraft, we’ve also been filling the shelves of this library with additional configurations.
Wing’s core set of hardware and software components used as foundation to build Aircraft Library
These vehicle designs draw from sets of common avionics, propulsion system elements, and materials. This allows us to rapidly evolve aircraft configurations from a proven foundation and tailor them to a broad range of uses from delivery of food, medicine and other goods, to supply chain optimization and emergency response.
Explorations for Wing’s Aircraft Library
This development cycle is always running in the background, generating new vehicle concepts that can be taken further into our development and production work streams as new needs emerge. These efforts focus on solving the hard problems first, prototyping the design for later use. In some cases we’re addressing a particular challenging aerodynamics riddle, and in others a packaging puzzle of how to integrate a big box into a not-so-big plane. Since these concept designs are intended to leverage the core elements from our operational system, we can focus the new design work on a shorter list of new and unique tasks, knowing that the brain of the system remains the same.
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.
Wing’s production aircraft (center) and prototypes (L and R) carry ~25% of the mass of the plane;
Cars transport less than 0.1 % of the mass of the vehicle for on-demand delivery
Aligned by a core set of capabilities–efficient flight, precision delivery, optimized airframes, and autonomous navigation–each of these designs is suited to a different use. If and when a new partner or operational need arises, we can go into the library, take an article off the shelf, take it through the rest of the development and testing process, and start delivering what people need. These aircraft represent a more efficient approach to multimodal delivery that is safer and more sustainable too.