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More flying cafes forecast as Google expands drone technology


Australians could see many more cafes flying through the suburbs after Google announced plans to test technology designed to charge its drones and increase the number of air deliveries.

The tech giant’s drone arm, Wing, which operates in the skies over Canberra and Logan City, south of Brisbane, unveiled plans to test new advances on Friday, including a device to allow drones to collect goods without human assistance.

If the trials are successful, Wing chief executive Adam Woodworth said the company could increase its air deliveries and broaden its reach by 2024.

The announcement comes just five months after Wing expanded its operations in partnership with food delivery service DoorDash, allowing customers to order up to 1kg of goods to be delivered by air to their home.

The company’s latest technology would include new software to create an autonomous network of drone traffic and devices called Autoloaders.

These devices would store packages that drones could pick up without the help of a human assistant, an advance that Woodworth says could significantly increase the speed and simplicity of drone deliveries.

“The question has always been how do you get things on the plane,” he said.

“You can offer a really great service, but if you can’t find a way to do it that doesn’t put more burden on the business or (make) them buy super specialized equipment or a robotic arm (it won’t work). It has to be simple.”

Woodworth told AAP the company developed the self-charging technology over a year, tested it in Wing’s California lab, and subjected it to dirt, dust, water and wind.

The drone autoloaders will be tested in Australia over the next year, he said, with the aim of demonstrating that they can optimize airborne deliveries.

“By mid-2024, we expect our system to be capable of handling tens of millions of deliveries for millions of consumers at a lower cost per delivery than ground transportation can achieve for rapid delivery of small packages,” he said.

“A traditional delivery business would make several orders of magnitude more deliveries (than we do now) every day. We are building for that scale while being realistic about how long it takes to implement those types of technologies.”

Wing has delivered more than 330,000 drone packages in Australia since launching in 2017, with items including coffee, takeaway food and small grocery items.

Wing’s global spokesman, Jonathan Bass, said older users and parents of young children have also proven to be heavy users of the service in Australia.

“People who don’t have a lot of time really appreciate it,” he said. “You don’t have to leave your kids, you can go out and have your coffee.”

While drone deliveries have been slow to take off around the world, analyst firm Research and Markets estimates that the drone package delivery market will be worth $8.4 billion by 2030, with the largest growth in the US. USA and Asia Pacific.