Wing, a subsidiary of Alphabet (the parent company of Google) is the first company in the United States to successfully deliver a package by drone.
Wing chose Christiansburg, Virginia, a city with 22,000 residents, to test their US drone delivery service. The company already operates in Helsinki and two cities in Australia. Locals in Christiansburg has the opportunity to have drones deliver goods to them — Wing lists Walgreens medicine, an assortment of candy from a local business, and products that would normally be shipped by FedEx among the options.
On Friday afternoon, the first purchase was made and then shipped to a lucky Christiansburger via drone, Wing told Medium.
The robots are coming! With your purchase
Customers can use an app developed by Wing to order goods via drone. One family had Tylenol, cough drops, Vitamin C tablets, bottled water, and tissues droned to their home, the statement added. Another customer brought a birthday present and, while delivery was handled by a FedEx truck for most of the way, a drone carried the package over the final mile-or-so stretch.
Walgreens thus becomes the first U.S. retailer to do a store-to-customer doorstep delivery via drone; FedEx will be the first logistics provider to deliver an e-commerce drone delivery with a separate shipment.
At Wing’s local operational center (called the ‘Nest’), the drones are packed with up to three pounds (1.3 kg) of goods at a time. From there, they can deliver the packages in a six-mile (10 km) range. The drones don’t land when they reach their delivery spot; instead, they hover above the building and lower the packages with a cable.
Other companies are working to launch similar systems in the US — Amazon, UPS, and Uber Eats are among the strongest contenders — but so far only Wing has obtained the necessary green lights from the federal government. For an economic actor to legally engage in such a business model, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) needs to issue a license allowing its pilots to fly multiple drones at the same time.
Wing and other drone-delivery companies hope to replace or at least reduce the number of vehicles on the road. Wing itself says their service is further aimed at people with limited mobility options and promises deliveries within “minutes” in Christiansburg’s designated delivery zones. A company spokesperson added that there will be no extra delivery fees.