- Google parent Alphabet's Project Wing drone initiative has suffered several setbacks according to Bloomberg, including the ouster of two top executives as well as a hiring freeze and the end of a potential delivery partnership with Starbucks.
- Project lead Dave Vos and top commercial executive Sean Mullaney were forced out over conflicts between Project Wing's development and commercial groups, and some Project Wing employees were given notice to find new jobs elsewhere in the company within 90 days, The Wall Street Journal adds.
- The proposed drone delivery partnership with Starbucks fell apart before it began over disagreements about access to the coffeehouse chain's customer data, according to unnamed sources cited in several reports.
There is a lot to unpack here, and it is hard to tell at this point how much Project Wing's problems are due to internal squabbles, how much they're due to a new dose of corporate-wide conservatism at Alphabet and Google and how much they're due to mounting challenges in the broader, still-embryonic drone market. It's quite possible that all of the above have conspired to put Project Wing in a bad place.
There is not a huge amount of detail available yet about the internal disagreements. Is it one of those cases where a technology company was trying to hard to — commercializeand realize revenue from — a concept still under development? Were some at Alphabet disappointed that Project Wing's commercial aspirations shifted away from its initial plan to deliver of medical supplies to remote areas and toward the less ambitious and noble retail aspiration to deliver burritos and coffee?
Looking at the Alphabet/Google empire more broadly, Google Fiber recently cut back on its broadband internet plans. This is a completely different venture, of course, but it is fair to wonder if across the company there is a movement to review where certain ambitious projects stand, and try to manage them more urgently toward some sort of outcome.
Finally, the broader market for commercial drones has not advanced as quickly as many on the sector had hoped. The federal government took a long time to develop new drone regulations, and then gave the giants of drone delivery — Amazon and Google, among others — very little except a promise that it would eventually get around to developing rules to their portion of the drone sector. Project Wing seemed to get a White House endorsement with a pledge for a federally sanction test, but now that looks like a small consolation prize. With the lack of regulatory clarity and persistent concerns about managing unmanned flight safety, the drone delivery market may be hunkering down for a long winter.