Wing, the drone delivery X project that “graduated” into full company status under the Alphabet umbrella this past July, is taking flight in Europe. Today, it announced that it will start a new pilot in Finland beginning in the spring of 2019 in Helsinki, delivering goods and packages of up to 1.5 kilograms (about 3.3 pounds) within a distance of up to 10 kilometers (6.2 miles).
Wing is launching a page now to take suggestions of what might be in most demand to deliver by drone.
This will be the first market for Wing in Europe, and its second extended pilot globally: Wing has run four separate trials covering some 55,000 journeys in Australia (and 60,000 overall), carrying things as diverse as medicine and coffee, across a range of environments. As with the Aussie trial, the Finnish service will be free until full commercial launch. It is otherwise run in as market-ready form as possible: people use an app, where they can select items and order their drones.
CEO James Ryan Burgess said in an interview that Wing — and Alphabet — see a clear opportunity to fill a gap when it comes to delivering goods, not just because of the environmental and safety impact of ground-vehicle-based services, but because of the economic angle.
“Today a recipient is charged a delivery fee, but so is the merchant,” he said — which is the typical business model for marketplaces like Amazon’s when it provides services like fulfillment. “Our aim is to provide a service at a cost lower for both. We think single numbers of dollars will be the likely amount an order will cost when it is commercially live.”
Today’s launch is notable because it’s a sign that Wing is slowly getting off the ground (so to speak) — despite a bumpy start in the U.S. There, the project forged partnerships early on with key brands like Starbucks and Chipotle, but neither went the distance. The partnership with the coffee giant was put on ice, some allege because there were disagreements about who would own the customer. And while Wing did show off a demonstration with Chipotle in Virginia, it didn’t develop into anything more.
“We are still working in the U.S., but the regulatory environment is more complicated,” Burgess said. “The Federal Aviation Administration has a tough job to do.”
Finland, in contrast, holds some appeal for Wing.
“Finland is known as a country that is forward-looking, with smarter ways of doing things,” Burgess said, with a number of other advanced drone projects underway. It also happens to be well out of the airspace (and media space) of the U.K., where Amazon has been working on trials of its Prime Air drone project.
Going ahead, Burgess declined to sat whether Wing will remain solely financed by Google/Alphabet, or if it might also seek outside investment. “This shows a lot of confidence in to drive forward,” he said of the graduation to subsidiary. “As a separate company we will have to show business viability. And we are excited about the future.”