Wing, a drone delivery business run by tech giant and Google parent Alphabet, will begin flying packages from a host of businesses to residents of the Dallas area this week, a dramatic expansion of a service conceived a decade ago.
Starting Thursday, Wing will deliver packages from the pharmacy chain Walgreens to residents of Little Elm and Frisco, Texas, which are north of the city. Soon after, the drone company will provide deliveries for other businesses in the Dallas-Fort Worth suburb, including ice cream from Blue Bell Creameries, prescription pet medications from Easyvet and first-aid kits from Texas Health.
“We’re going to get started in Little Elm and Frisco on April 7, but our long-term goal is to serve many, many more people around the DFW metroplex,” Wing said.
Drones have the potential to make speedier deliveries than trucks and cars because they can whisk over traffic and houses instead of sitting in traffic. To succeed broadly, though, drone delivery must overcome regulatory and safety obstacles.
Wing’s expansion to Texas comes as the company racks up experience navigating the skies to make deliveries by drone. The company has delivered more than 200,000 packages, including 1,000 deliveries in a single day in Canberra, Australia, according to the company. Wing also makes deliveries in Helsinki, Finland, and Christiansburg, Virginia.
The Dallas-Fort Worth area could prove busier than regions previously serviced by Wing. The area has a regional population of about 7 million, and Wing says its airspace is much more complicated.
To help ease regulatory approvals, Wing adopted a “store to door” approach in which retail employees process orders and load packages on the drones. Elsewhere, a single pilot oversees multiple drones as they fly.
Wing’s drones, which carry one package at a time, take off vertically from a “nest” using an array of 12 upward-pointing propellers. Four forward-pointing propellers on a conventional wing accelerate the aircraft horizontally at speeds up to 70mph, an approach that’s quieter and more energy efficient than conventional quadcopter designs. When it reaches its destination, the drone hovers at an altitude of 23 feet and reels its package down on a cable into a customer’s backyard.
A University of Virginia survey about drone operations in Christiansburg found 87% of respondents viewed the technology positively. If people have concerns, they can contact Wing at [email protected]
Wing drones can deliver small packages, such as a book or cup of coffee. Customers order using a Wing app on their phones. There’s no extra fee for delivery, Wing said.
Drone delivery hasn’t spread fast, but many companies are working to make it mainstream. Wing’s competitors include Amazon, Flytrex, Manna, Zipline, MissionGo, UPS and Wingcopter.