Wing’s New Remote Operations Center Is Air Traffic Control for Its Drones

Wing—a subsidiary of Alphabet and sister company of Google—began delivering products by drone to neighborhoods in Frisco and Little Elm from a "drone nest" in each city last spring. The drones buzz with payloads from Walgreens, Blue Bell Creameries, Texas Health, and easyvet.

Now Wing has opened its second U.S. remote operations center in a Coppell office building to oversee the drone operations, staffed by FAA-licensed "pilots in command."

Imagine an air traffic control center—but instead of tracking airliners full of passengers, it’s managing drones that buzz skies north of Dallas, delivering ice cream, nasal spray, pet medicine, and more.

That’s what Wing opened recently in the suburb of Coppell, north of DFW Airport.

Wing—a subsidiary of Alphabet and sister company of Google—began delivering products by drone to neighborhoods in Frisco and Little Elm from a “drone nest” in each city last spring.

One drone nest at Frisco Station, near The Star, makes deliveries for Blue Bell Creameries, Texas Health, and easyvet clinic. The other, at a Walgreens store at Eldorado Parkway and FM 423 in Little Elm, makes deliveries only for Walgreens. The drones deliver to select neighborhoods within four miles of each location.

‘Pilots in command’ oversee multiple drone flights simultaneously

A Wing “pilot in command” overseeing Wing drone delivery flights. [Photo: Wing]

Wing’s new DFW remote operations center—its second in the U.S. after one in Palo Alto, California—helps manage the Frisco and Little Elm drone flights, as well as Wing flights in Christiansburg, Virginia. The new center is on the 10th floor of a Cypress Waters office building in Coppell, according to the Dallas Morning News. It’s staffed by FAA-licensed “pilots in command.” But they aren’t piloting the drones themselves—they have no joysticks, and the drones’ cameras don’t send any live feeds.

That’s because all Wing flights are fully automated. A flight navigation system plans each route, and the drones execute flights on their own. This frees up the pilots in command at the center to oversee multiple simultaneous flights across entire service areas.

Ground support actually interacts with the drones

[Photo: Wing/Walgreens]

The pilots in command monitor the overall operation, keep on top of air traffic and the weather, and respond to alerts as needed. When hands-on intervention is required—like repositioning a drone on its charging pad—ground support operators based in the area can be quickly dispatched to the aircraft’s location. 

“We’re just getting started with this new operating model,” Wing said in a blog post, “and it will take time for it to expand across the industry. With the technology that we’ve built, we can leverage the talent of a human operator to manage ever greater areas of responsibility.”

Wing says the technology is one of the most exciting advancements it’s seen in the industry recently. “It’s not very often that we get to form an entirely new type of aviation career, but that’s exactly what’s happening in this space today,” the company said in a statement. “We’re just getting started with this new operating model, and it will take time for it to expand across the industry.”

Wing see more Remote Operations Facilities as drone deliveries grow, and “that’s going to create some interesting new career opportunities for all types of aviation enthusiasts,” the company added.

Hillwood is partnering with Wing on the Frisco Station drone nest

[Photo: Wing]

Dallas real estate development company Hillwood partnered with Wing on the Frisco Station location. In the run up to the service, Wing tested drone flights at Hillwood’s Flight Test Center in Fort Worth’s AllianceTexas, a place for public and private stakeholders to commercialize urban air mobility and uncrewed aerial system solutions. 

In addition to the current deliveries, the Frisco Station location is being used to research new use cases for the service. Wing also plans to use the site for community demonstrations, educational opportunities (like school field trips), and public tours.

There’s no word yet on when Wing may be planning to expand drone deliveries in North Texas. To see the service area of the Frisco and Little Elm Wing deliveries and for more on how to use the service, you can go here.

A Wing drone’s sensors monitor many things as it lowers to drop off a delivery. [Video still: Wing]

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R E A D   N E X T

  • Wing—the drone delivery unit of Google parent company Alphabet—is partnering with Blue Bell Creameries, easyvet, and Texas Health Resources on the launch. Wing calls the service "the first in a major U.S. metro area," and aims to offer "6 miles, 6 minutes, free delivery." Wing's test deliveries from Walgreens stores in Frisco and Little Elm graduate to their official launch Thursday as well.

  • With a five-year, $11.3 million grant from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, researchers at UT Dallas' new Human Nociceptor and Spinal Cord Molecular Signature Center are digging into the causes of chronic pain and new ways to treat it. The center's leader, Dr. Ted Price, says the data generated "will fundamentally change the way that we think about pain and how we develop therapeutics."

  • Center chief Sandra Chapman says the gift will help researchers develop strategies and technologies "to make sure our best brain years are ahead of us."

  • The 27,500-square-foot new HQ—in partnership with UT Dallas—anchors Richardson's 1,200-acre Innovation Quarter. A masterwork of vision planning years in the making, it's a catalyst to spark innovation and nuture collaborations—and attract hundreds of entrepreneurial businesses. Six new UT Dallas research centers will initially launch at the IQ HQ, helping to build businesses and commercialize research coming from the nearby university. “We are a global presence," Richardson Mayor Paul Voelker said at the event. "And the vision that we have here is that we will be a global influencer of technology and innovation."

  • Chint Power Solutions America, a subsidiary of electronic components maker Chint Group, has made Richardson the new home of its U.S. HQ and Innovation Center—in yet another California HQ move to North Texas. As CPS seeks to grow its presence in the solar and clean energy space, it will use the Innovation Center "to shape what’s next in solar and energy storage technology."