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Welcome to Near Future. In this weekly feature, The Current spotlights innovations powering the next wave of commerce.
For years, drone delivery remained a subject left to R&D teams, while the rest of us were left to use our imagination. This left room for plenty of speculation, as well.
In recent months, however, the companies developing these unmanned delivery systems are making visible progress, whether it’s taking to the skies to make deliveries or showing their work. Just over a month after we last featured a look at drone delivery in Near Future, a fresh round of news items finds us checking in with fresh updates.
Here’s a look at the latest:
Amazon’s Prime Air sets a course for Texas
A Prime Air drone in the sky. (Courtesy photo)
In June, Amazon announced that it planned to make the long-awaited debut of its drone delivery service in Lockeford, California. On Friday, the company said Prime Air will also be touching down in College Station, Texas.
The home of Texas A&M University will start to receive orders via drone later this year, Amazon said.
This came on the heels of Amazon receiving approval from the College Station City Council for the company to build a facility within city limits, according to College Station media outlet The Eagle. Public hearings included testimony from some residents who voiced concerns about safety and noise. In the end, the proposal passed unanimously.
"Amazon's new facility presents a tremendous opportunity for College Station to be at the forefront of the development of drone delivery technology," said College Station Mayor Karl Mooney, in a statement released by Amazon. "We look forward to partnering with Amazon and Texas A&M and are confident that Amazon will be a productive, conscientious, and accountable participant in our community."
It underscores how Amazon’s drone delivery service is moving into launch sequence after years of development. Now comes the test of how it will fare in real-world delivery conditions.
Wing’s many drones
Wing drone plans. (Courtesy photo)
When it starts flying above College Station, Amazon will join Wing among operational drone delivery services in Texas. The Alphabet-owned company is making drops from Walgreens stores in the suburbs of Dallas.
This week, Wing CEO Adam Woodworth detailed in a blog post how the company is designing different-sized drones for varying capacities of delivery runs and loads.
The company has built a hardware and software system that serves as a core to its work. These can be used to create a variety of different vehicles. Wing’s development is built around the principle that packages carried by drone should weigh 25% of a plane.
“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," Woodworth wrote.
So far, Wing has a drone designed to carry a payload of 2.5 pounds. It is working on a smaller drone that can carry .6 pounds, and a larger model for up to 7 pounds.
The company released an “aircraft library" to show off its work. The video below illustrates this (and has lots of great drone footage):
Walmart’s land and air patent
With a new patent filing, Walmart signaled it is exploring a vehicle that would combine land and air in one robotic delivery system.
According to Modern Shipper, the patent filed in late June is for automated guided vehicles (AGVs). These would start out taking a land route. But if an obstacle emerges on the ground, the vehicle would deploy a drone that gets a package to its final destination. Drones are described as the back-up, providing a failsafe for a driverless car that might run into an unexpected roadblock.
While a Walmart spokesperson made clear that a patent doesn't necessarily mean a new techology will become a product, the filing is a sign that what ends up being functioning drone delivery service in the US might not only involve airborne vehicles. In a wider frame, it also underscores a central point about unmanned systems: They might run into things, and it's hard to ensure that they don't.The latest filing comes as Walmart is testing a wide-ranging drone delivery service through a partnership with DroneUp. It aims to be within range of four million US households this year.
Trending in Operations
Applications are open for startups interested in the 12-week Store Nº8 dCommerce Base Camp.
Walmart incubation arm Store Nº8 and Web3 accelerator Outlier Ventures are teaming up to support retail startups.
The organizations opened applications this week for the Store Nº8 dCommerce Base Camp accelerator. The virtual program will offer education, funding and mentorship to startups building solutions in Web3 that are designed for the retail and commerce experience.
Focus areas for selected startups will include decentralized infrastructure, data and growth solutions, immersive experiences and the metaverse and the intersection of AI and blockchain technology.
“We think dCommerce represents a huge opportunity to unbundle ecommerce into its constituent parts, and into a more decentralized and composable stack of protocols to create a more efficient, equitable and improved experience for retailers and consumers from CRM to last-mile delivery," said Outlier Ventures CEO Jamie Burke, in a statement. "There is clearly no better partner than Store Nº8, as Walmart's incubation arm, so we are thrilled to launch this accelerator program together.”
Beginning in mid-August, founders will take part in a 12-week program. The cohort members will receive funding and access to subject matter experts from Store Nº8 and Outlier Ventures. They will also receive support from industry mentors in areas such as product roadmap development, the token economy and fundraising.
“Decentralized commerce has the potential to unlock new value in the global commerce ecosystem, so we are excited to partner with Outlier Ventures to support and engage with entrepreneurs building at the forefront of this technology on their path to scale," said Store Nº8 VP Thomas Kang, in a statement.
The new program arrives in the year after Web3 and the metaverse saw a spike in interest from brands and retailers, as the arrival of immersive platforms opened up new digital environments where consumers gathered. Walmart entered the metaverse through an activation on Roblox, and also introduced a platform for digital collectibles. But it remains a nascent space, so there’s room for startups bringing fresh ideas to help larger enterprises develop capabilities. Alongside connections that help startups move forward, such learning is one potential outcome of the accelerator could last beyond the 12 weeks.
Applications for the accelerator are available here.