One of the technologies weve been covering at tested for the past decade is the emergence of drone technology like hobby, rc drones. You know from companies like dji and alongside that fast paced development has also been the question of when we might see drones in commercial spaces. For things like drone delivery, one of the companies working on drone delivery is google. With their spin off wing. We saw a few of their prototypes at maker faires in years past uh, but i didnt realize they actually have been making drone deliveries today, theyre actually in the field in places and cities in australia and east coast. In the us shipping people coffee lunch tylenol, you name it. What were going to today is one of their test facilities south of san francisco, where they run their aircraft, that theyve developed to make sure its safe and to test the platform that theyve developed and were going to hopefully check out that aircraft learn about the prototypes. That got them there and check out what it means to have delivery, not in a you know, two day window same day: delivery, but in a same hour, delivery time frame. So hopefully a little bit of that future. That weve been promised so now here with adam woodworth adam we met before testing viewers actually may recognize some of your projects. Uh theyve gone viral, some of your rc personal projects, but your day job. You are the cto of wing yeah yeah.

I ive been involved in aviation, my whole life and uh. You know whether its on the hobby side or on the professional side um. I just really like flying things um and designing things. Yeah and here youre designing you and your team have worked on many iterations of design. Uh that have now are now in the field. Thats a thing that like blew my mind, you guys have not only at this facility done the tests, but people are getting a real delivery. So i want to kind of hear about from the technical side in the aircraft design side how you got to this point. Where did you start? One of the the main drivers here is uh. You know at the forefront sort of the safety of the operation, so you know when youre flying things. You really want to make sure that those things are reliable, theyre safe. They have a low impact on the community or operating over, and so most of the design elements on this system are sort of built to meet that goal. If you look at this plane sort of as a as a aircraft designer this isnt sort of what i would normally think of as as like what a plane should look like, but it really is, is the outcome of all of those design constraints um. You know at the most fundamental level, uh were basically like. If you took a you know normal multi rotor. You know quadcopter and sort of smooshed it together with a regular airplane.

So we can take off uh vertically hover like a helicopter, and then these rotors up front well turn on and we accelerate up to sort of flying speed. The hover motors turn off and we can cruise efficiently on the wing there and that vitol design gets you. The benefits of that vertical takeoff, so you can deploy not necessarily with a big runway um and take advantage of all the modernization of the the electronic speed controllers. The things in the drone world rc hobby world, but also the efficiencies of when youre flying fixed wings. Yeah, so you know the wing lets you go further farther faster and you know the hovering system lets you get into. You know it lets you sort of drop off a package in somebodys backyard, where you wouldnt, you know you wouldnt be able to sort of come in and circle and land um, the other. The other element of this is that youre youre, basically carrying around a spare airplane with you all the time. So if you think about you, know im flying around as a plane and one of these servos brakes or one of these motor brakes or you know a part of the tail brakes. You have a whole second airplane with you, so you can slow down hover over. Like a helicopter, right, um and, and you sort of have, you have implicit redundancy in the configuration – are both systems operating ever at the same time like when its in a glide mode? Are you using? You know the rotors that are for the vtol, so under under sort of uh under normal operating conditions they sort of operate independently.

So uh, you know once we get up to cruise speed, the whole hover system will turn off and then you know all of your roll pitch and yaw commands will come from these aerodynamic surfaces. Uh theres a theres, an interesting period between when youre hovering like a helicopter and youre flying like a plane where all these things have to be working together, um, but the one of the benefits of having this sort of configuration is that you have uh you have You have a very over actuated robot so like, if you think about like you, have these six degrees of freedom you can move around in and normally you have sort of actuation degrees of freedom. You have you know 12 hover motors that can all generate forces. You have four cruise motors, they can all generate forces. You have four control surfaces that can all generate forces, so theres a theres, a sort of a very interesting and complex allocation problem here of lets say this control surface isnt working right. You have a bunch of other actuators on the system that could sort of lend a hand to make that happen and thats thats sort of you know. One of the underlying philosophies of our whole design is this sort of like graceful degradation of performance. If you have any sort of fault so lets say this breaks or you have a motor that breaks or you know you have a sensing problem, you want the system to sort of gracefully adapt to that degraded, condition and sort of you know just keep like be You know just keep operating and thats just a natural benefit of the design of going for a vtol design, which sounds like something your team knew you wanted to do at the beginning, but, like you said this is configuration isnt what you would normally think of when Youre as an aircraft designer, but going back to like your earlier prototypes, that looks like a traditional fixed swing.

So yeah is this where you started yeah, so this is. This is um one of the places we started back in around 2014 and this was called a tail sitter design. So basically, the the hover system is the same as the the forward flight system um. So you know you take off in this orientation and then to go in the cruise like an airplane, you tilt over 90 degrees and accelerate out. Well, you lose some of that redundancy, but the one that was so some of the issues here. Are you know you? You dont have that sort of inherent redundancy in the configuration, and you also have to you – have to size this propulsion system for both cruise and hover efficiency so, like those are from a from airplane design perspective. Those are very different sort of performance regions. Um, the requirements for a hovering system are usually much different than the both the power requirements and sort of the efficiency trades that you have when youre cruising, and so for a configuration like that on the vital side, where you have a sort of separate, lift and Thrust setup you can optimize each one for their their relative environments and then that transition part thats where the yeah and magic happens yeah and one of the one of the sort of other benefits of going to uh. The configuration we have now is that the transition event is one of the sort of more dynamic events in vital flight.

So you know for something like this. You know you have to pitch over 90 degrees. All of your you know the sensor sort of orientations change the orientation. The package changes um its a relatively dynamic maneuver uh for for a configuration like were flying today, you more or less just sort of accelerate. So if you think about you, have sort of like an infinitely long runway now, um thats up in the sky and the plane can just sort of you know it can take its time to get up to speed where were going. We dont need roads, yeah, theres. No, you know you dont have to change the orientation of the gps. Antenna you dont have to worry about, you know is the is the vision system thats, helping with navigation? Does that need to change orientation? And you know for a lot of the things that were carrying a lot of is prepared food um, you dont want like right. You know you dont, want your coffee cup to have to do a 90 degree, coordinate, transform or build in something like a gimbal storage system and to go from there to this configuration yeah. Is it simulations in cad yeah, a lot of it? You know uh. I always joke that. The the way that you design airplanes is spending a lot of time. You know drawing all the airplanes youre never going to build yeah um, so you really do sort of you know, go to the whiteboard and everybody sort of puts up their post.

It notes of like well what, if it looked like this, what if it you know, had 50 rotors, you know 12, what, if it you know what, if it changed, shape, what, if you had multiple airplanes like theres theres, all these, you sort of fully exploit the Design space and then you start applying some of the operational constraints to it. So you know an example of that would be like okay. Well, we want the. We want the package to maintain a fixed orientation, so you can take a bunch of the concepts youve drawn and then you can sort of push them off the side. Uh you want. We want redundancy and hover, so you can take a lot of the the components that you know. Cant absorb a propulsion system. You can push them off the side and eventually just sort of on first principles. You can narrow down the design space from you know something that looks like theres thousands of options into just a handful that you can go and do sort of the deeper math trades on like for this system in particular um. You know a lot of the design work was around. You know having the margins to be able to absorb system failures. So if you, if you think about, if you think about a you, know a regular camera drone like a regular quadcopter, if you lose one motor um its very hard to maintain sort of attitude and enroll pitching control um for something like this, if you, if you Lose one motor you have a bunch of other motors to make up for it, but there are some combinations where um you know, even if youre, even if you have six motors you, you might be able to lose one and still maintain steady low flight.

But you cant complete the mission um we found in a lot of the design trades. The the sort of reliability case closed around eight motors, so so eight hover motors would be sufficient. Uh to you know, absorb a propulsion system, failure or sort of 80 percent. More here, thats a good sweet spot and the the interesting trade uh that we discovered was uh. You know youre youre, designing sort of primarily to the the safety and redundancy uh target. But then you know, since youre offering a commercial service, a cost is a large element. Um and sort of general complexity of the build becomes a large element of it, and by going from eight up to twelve motors uh, you can shrink the size of the motors. So you can use uh, you know less expensive materials for the the lift rotors like these dont have to be carbon fiber. They need to be plastic um. It also moves you into a size of motor thats uh much more popular in the hobby space. So you have the sort of volumes of production scale there that affect the cost there and uh. You know in our case uh the smaller routers we dont have to. We dont have to position a line in any particular orientation. So if you had, if you had a big rotor on here and you wanted to stop it to hover its acting like a little wing yeah and that can cause a lot of drag and i can also sort of make the controls problem harder.

So, by going by going from eight up to twelve it, let us shrink all the individual propulsion system elements and in many ways like be able to ignore some of the second order problems. And then you describe this as having like two flight systems, one basically, two airplanes in one physical design, but then youre also carrying a payload, a payload thats not attached to the body its hanging right at us at a set length at the turbine length with a Package, can you talk about how that factors into the flight characteristics and the design of this yeah, so this is um. This is a this. This box in of itself, is a very interesting design case. Study um, so you know where the the airplane on its own is about four and a half kilos and the the package is about another kilo and a half. So you know a third of this weight is in here. So if you look at sort of normal payload fractions for a hovering thing, thats thats a lot of weight to be carrying around um and its also its also relatively big compared to to the airplane like. If you look at this like the size of it compared to the wing, this is a lot of surface area to be dragging around um. For all those reasons, we went to an external payload, so if you think about it, uh, if you size the fuselage to carry this inside, you you carry that drag throughout the whole fight um in our case, like were dropping off the box.

So if you carried on the outside, you only need to take that that drag penalty on the way there and you can fly back as a sort of cleaner, smaller airplane um, but carrying it on the outside makes this sort of part of the airplane. With all the vector forces yeah, so you know all the loads that all these other parts of the plane have to take. This has to take as well, and this also cant impart sort of any strange forces on the plane um. So everything about sort of the shape of the box, the construction box is all to address that and if you look at it sort of from the front it it, it forms a relatively aerodynamic shape. Not you know its a super aerodynamic shape, but um relatively so, and because we dont control the orientation that goes up into the bottom of the plane. It needs to be symmetric so that, like, if you design this, this nice sort of aerodynamic body one way and then it locks the other way right. You might have some problems um. Additionally, you know the assembly of the box needs to be relatively straightforward. Um. You know this is part of you know as we as we sort of partner with merchants as we as we carry other folks goods. This is like part of their their operation, so theyre, you know having these things at the restaurant somebodys gon na put together um.

You got ta make sure that when you put it together, it will still fit into the airplane um. It cant take up a lot of space um, so theres a theres, an interesting uh sort of paper, folding problem associated with all this of. How do you get the shape to fold flat to fold open to be rigid when its connected and to fit up into the bottom of the airplane? Its a combination of aircraft design and packaging yeah yeah its one, its a very interesting one. Do so im here with tony whos a flight test engineer who runs the flight testing operations here tony? This is where you and team have been running test non, stop for the past couple months, um to to get certification from faa thats right, thats right. We set up this facility actually about a year and a half ago and spent most of 2020 preparing for type certification, which required us to do uh over a thousand flight hours in in multiple cycles, with our aircraft system here, and so this was set up to Help facilitate that and then earlier this year we operated the system uh through the end of the the type certification requirements and were uh able to uh produce the outcomes that we wanted. So what i saw earlier today was an example of what would have been going on with the aircraft landing taking off having these the dummy. The packages that were sent you know a kilometer away, or so, which is, is that representative of what a deployment in the field looks like its, you know in australia or virginia where you have this.

Is it somewhat like this with these pads that are for charging, but also with these giant qr codes that what it is it is? It is uh. While you know we dont have residential neighborhoods around here, weve designed this to be as representative as possible. So the distances that we have the infrastructure thats in place a lot of this mimics, what our situation looks like in the production environments in australia. So up to this is 50 aircraft, but it could scale right. It could be smaller. It could be bigger their space. This much apart give me a sense of what that cycle looks like what what is this aircraft doing now, and what does it do you know in that cycle of takeoff and landing sure, so its obviously on the chart or on the charging pad right now. This is where its uh being charged up the batteries that are inside the aircraft and then once a customer places an order. Uh, the aircraft receives a mission to begin its its uh delivery mission to this customer and so itll take off from the charging pad. It will go and meet the merchant at a specified location where the merchant loads, the package onto the aircraft, the aircraft then travels to the customers, front yard backyard wherever it may be, delivers the package and then returns home to charge again wow. So up to two stops right going to the merchant uh with the operational range of how many miles or kilometers uh were looking at 10 to 15, kilometers or so.

Okay, so thats thats, pretty good, and also that gives you a sense of like distance from merchant uh, a user, an end user of like what type of speedy delivery theyre looking for right, the same half hour, delivery time frame um and its charging for how long? Typically, uh charging depends on how far it flies. So if it does a very short mission, then obviously charging time is less, but um generally were looking at anywhere of uh, 10 to 30 minutes or so wow and at the scale like. I think the thing that were bearing lead is its all autonomous right, like you have people watching the computer systems that run this uh, but theyre the missions are sent via back end and up to these 50 of these aircraft here are all independently going on those Missions thats correct and its its really strange to to think about this because, as the pilot in command youre responsible for all these aircraft, but youre not actually flying them right so being a man pilot. Switching into the you know, autonomous space was a bit of a a shift that took a while to get used to, but now that were here, it just makes a lot of sense, its much safer, its much more efficient. And ultimately, i think this is the way that we scale these types of operations. Is there any way to directly tap into these aircraft? For direct? You know rc control, no its so for for the production operations, which would be our in our business environments.

Theres no way to tap into the aircraft itself were here at a test facility, so we do have some extra capabilities here and some of our aircraft, you may have seen – have a little rc receiver on them and that is for if we need to do any Type of overrides, while were doing specific test campaigns and then kind of how aware are these aircraft of each other in the other sensors on them that allow them to know whats around them outside of just the fiducial markers or is it all telemetry? So there are some sensors on board the aircraft that allow it to understand the world around it. It could see trees, it can see obstacles, but when its in the air, its not aware of other wing drones as its flying and all of that is managed by our backend system, where its able to plan all the different routes and keep everything deconflicted. That sounds like thats. One of the big like technology hurdles is creating that flight controller system. What would be an air traffic controller, but for a you know, a scalable number of drones, yeah, and actually i had my undergrad in air traffic management and so its really cool to be in the space where you know commercial aviation has manned traffic, uh air traffic Control where here its fully autonomous – and you can imagine a world where maybe our air traffic control system could expand and potentially provide benefit to other airspace cases.

So brandon tell me a little bit about the the way these aircraft are controlled whats. The system like that runs them the system when someone orders something the system takes that order and when the merchant is ready to load the package flight path is automatically created, so our systems take into account the aircrafts capabilities, the geospatial knowledge in the flight area, any Airspace restrictions or any other limitations in the exact flight area and a four dimensional path is generated, so thats three dimensions in space and then the other dimension is time right and those volume reservations are like the contract between the unmanned traffic management system and the airplane, And the airplane flies within that reservation volume to deliver your package and all these reservation volumes are actually usually unique. Each order creates a custom plan thats optimal for that time and place to get that package to you and thats, taking consideration everything else going on in your system. Yes, you know what other flights, the things that may need to get prioritized uh youre, saying theres information, thats hard coded in terms of maybe geography is weather or something thats factored in yeah. We take into account the the weather and the winds um, because the airplane does fly uh in airspeed um to get to deliver the package so depending on, if theres a headwind or tailwind. Those timings could be different. But we take all of that into account and getting to the point where the system works, youre, taking like the basically what a air flight traffic controller would be doing on their day to day job, but applying it to maybe go.

You know this this. These parameters for delivery, yeah and its fully fully autonomous right and weve created the the algorithms um and the system to test and evaluate those algorithms is actually quite expansive. We do millions of simulations every single day and we have other algorithms that can look at that data and look at the optimality of of our software to make sure that, if theres any issues, then we can fix them pretty quickly. Is it fundamentally a closed system and that its your your aircraft information that its factoring in or other external other telemetry that youre also considering weve built weve built the system from the ground up uh to be interoperable with other unmanned traffic management systems um? So in the industry theres a drive towards having these uh service suppliers that can supply unmanned traffic management solutions and we have the capability to share those four dimensional reservations with other systems. So we can all deconflict together. Is that a trend that that industry is moving toward like yeah? We see this. I see it working reliably right now for delivery, but is that not just scalable number of aircraft but size and type of aircraft? And this fundamentally, this type of system is what how aircraft, how the skies will be kind of traffic controlled, going forward yeah exactly you know, we really view drone delivery is a new form of transportation and i think uh theres going to be many. Many use cases that we havent even contemplated, and we all need to be able to share the airspace together to really bring this new, this new form of transportation to everyone, we think of traditional delivery services using vehicles right.

They work on existing infrastructure, theres, an understanding between community and you know in government and regulation of what that is here, its a lot of new ground or air right. So what is that like to work with different countries or different communities? Yeah and having them understand that airspace becomes part of that. You know delivery experience yeah, i think theres a um. I think that the way that you framed it is it really is a new thing right, so its its a new bit of that infrastructure and um. You know we try to really respect that right, like youre, introducing something fundamentally new um, you dont want it to be disruptive, you want it to be additive to the experience um. So you know we do. We do a lot of community outreach before we go into an area to offer the service um. We do a lot of sort of surveying of the folks who you know are the are the relative few on the planet who are getting to sort of experience this in reality, like the feedback of sort of what people are experiencing, is really important, helps feed into Uh, what the next versions of stuff like this will look like um, and i think generally you know i always look at like reality – is the ultimate cure for the what ifs. So when you have, when you have an industry, you have a technology that the idea of has existed for so long like theres, a lot of time to imagine all the things that might happen theres a lot of time to sort of, like you know, plan out All the scenarios of like oh well, this is what itll look like, or these are the risks or you know this is this is what scaled operations will look like, but once you actually do it like, once, you actually go and see it in operation.

All of that becomes clear, like you start to see sort of what the real trends are, what where the real risks are, where the real risks arent um and it lets you sort of you know fundamentally reframe the problem so im sure one of the questions people Have is when is this going to be in their part of the world? You know: where does this make sense? Where do you as companies think this makes the most sense uh, and what does deployment look like when you reach places outside where youre testing currently yeah? So um, you know youve seen the test site today, but you know this. This is a reality for a number of communities uh. You know across the globe right now: um weve got operations uh in two cities in australia, uh in in finland and in uh on the east coast in the us, and you know the the delivery experience is uh. You know for it for an average customer its not that much different than you know, any of the other sort of on demand delivery services where its just sort of become a part of their daily life um. So you know you weve got a weve, got a little marketplace application. You pull it out, you say hey, you know. I want this coffee or id like this. You know we sell a lot of full roast chickens. I want this chicken um and uh. You know you go through the checkout and you know, unlike uh, unlike a regular delivery service, we present a couple of different options.

For you know: where would you like the box delivered so um? You know itll, say itll. Look at a a bunch of constraints around you know what the aircraft needs to be able to. You know sort of get from the environment in order to drop off the box, but basically, if youve got about a 10 foot diameter circle somewhere in your yard, the the plane will be able to go and leave the box there. So its not like predetermined group share, drop off points. It really is its really a gps base, your backyard yeah, its its totally sort of you know like a zero infrastructure solution and and in many ways like a sort of a planning free solution. So you know if, if, if that video property happens, to meet those set of constraints, to get the plane in the plane will come, and you know itll come drop off your box and you know the whole experience might take. You know 30 or 40 seconds and the planes gone and youve got you know whatever. Whatever things youre interested in getting um, you know were doing right now. You know theres on the order of like a flight every 30 seconds or so somewhere on the planet, where somebodys getting that reality of drone delivery. Um. The cool part for me is, you know, having ive liked aviation forever um, but aviation is a somewhat rare experience right, like you think about you know.

When was last time you know a lot of people like you, you remember the first time you flown a plane. Uh, if you ask somebody the same question about when the first time you drove in a car, its like, like, like automobiles, have been like fully normalized like its just like its just part of sort of the day to day life um and the cool part. Here is that were doing the same thing with aviation like youre. Taking that experience of aviation, which was previously a very rare experience and its like for those pockets of the the globe right now, its its its part of the everyday um, and i think its a its a you know its a great way to introduce people to Aviation, its also, like you know its offering a very valuable service that you know in comparison to any other form of transportation. You know is fundamentally better for the environment fundamentally safer. You know we target we target levels of safety for moving the box as being literally safer than any other way. You could move that box, so you know compared to picking up the box and walking down the sidewalk like having the drone bring. It is actually like a net increase in in the safety of the whole ecosystem, um and so its cool to see. You know having having spent the majority of my career in this space, its cool, to see it starting to become a reality in these these.

These parts of the world um – and you know our hope – is that those parts of the world expand and theres more more places where people are experiencing this um and thats. Why were you know, were continuing to refine the capabilities, were continuing to build out the test, infrastructure and, and really trying to sort of you know, prove at all levels that you know this is something that makes sense. This is something that is safe to operate. This is something that is sort of a net positive wherever we we happen to bring it. Thank you so much adam and your team for inviting us out here to check that out its really amazing what you guys have done and to see how far its come. Since we started seeing glimpses of these at places like maker yeah yeah, i remember i was probably three or four years ago now. I remember showing you all around a plane that didnt really look like this, yet no one could talk about it. No, no! No! You couldnt say anything about it, but you know, i think one of the one of the cool things is that, like you know you can you can go on youtube right now and you can see videos that are like shot by customers like people who are actually Experiencing it its not its sort of outside of that that demonstration space now its really its starting to become a real part of everybodys lives.

So that was really really neat, and i think the thing that was maybe the most surprising was how how much it all. Just kind of worked, i mean the fact that this is as a technology that theyve been working for for the past 10 years has gotten to a point where its its out in the field, and you can get standing the middle of that deployment facility 50 aircraft. Launching and landing was kind of like that, a little bit of that magic of technology that we love a couple takeaways. I had, though, one you know the the engineering theyve done into the aircraft from the prototypes to what they ended up with incredibly amazing, an amount of thoughtfulness, things that i never thought or knew they had to consider from the packaging design. To you know even the hook right that how how it hooks onto the package, all that seems to be stuff, theyve, been really smart and integrated on. But maybe more importantly, is that back end that software and the algorithms that theyve made that platform for autonomously controlling a fleet of aircraft doing the job that an air traffic controller would be doing, but on an airport that doesnt need to look like a traditional airport. A drone port that can be shipped in a shipping container and put up and remotely controlled over the cloud thats going to be technology, thats, going to be not only essential, as i now realize, for drone deliveries, but also for any type of autonomous vehicles.

When we think about the dream of flying cars, or even airplanes in the future, has could have applications there and then finally theres what adam said at the end that really stuck with me, which is what theyre doing isnt just you know, making the science fiction reality. Uh the science fiction world the reality in the technology, but in the practice and thats the most important part you know as engineers. They can invent the technology to make this work from a technical standpoint, but none of it matters unless it makes sense and its practical in the real world and thats gon na have to be a harder thing for, i think for them to uh to get over. Uh, the communities uh accepting drones in the sky. I think theyve already had feedback about. You know what the drones sound like as theyre flying and making these deliveries, because when we think of drone deliveries, its not just getting into remote farmers or to remote people who live, you know off the beaten path, but theyre talking about getting people real items in Their backyards and to make drone deliveries as common as your doordash or your uber uh, and for that to happen, i think they still have a little bit ways to go in both the regulation and also in both in in terms of the acceptance in society uh.