Wing, Google’s drone company, will be putting its new air carrier certification to use in a drone delivery pilot program starting next month in Virginia.
Photo credit: Wing
This will be Wing’s first time conducting a drone delivery program in the U.S.
As part of the pilot, Wing has partnered with Walgreens, FedEx, and Sugar Magnolia—a local gift purveyor—to deliver food, over-the-counter healthcare products, and small gift items in the town of Christianburg, VA.
Wing has spent the last seven years developing a delivery drone and navigation system for this purpose. By delivering small packages directly to homes through the air in minutes, and making a wide range of medicine, food and other products available to customers, we will demonstrate what we expect safer, faster, cleaner local delivery to look like in the future.
– James Ryan Burgess, CEO of Wing
The Wing pilot program will be a new addition to the ongoing UAS IPP (UAS Integration Pilot Program) in the Commonwealth of Virginia. The goal of the UAS IPP is to allow local and state governments to test various types of drone operations otherwise prohibited by the FAA’s Part 107 rules, such as flying BVLOS (Beyond Visual Line of Sight) to make drone deliveries.
So far, the testing allowed under Virginia’s UAS IPP has contributed to Wing becoming one of the first drone companies to secure air carrier certification from the FAA. Virginia’s UAS IPP also helped State Farm get a national waiver for BVLOS and operations over people from the FAA, to help the company use drones for damage assessments made to support insurance adjustments.
[Want to learn more about the UAS IPP? See how much progress the program made in its first year.]
Details about the Proposed VA Drone Delivery Program
Wing has worked with FedEx and Walgreens to create customized boxes for each company’s products that will be delivered by drone. These boxes are designed to carry medicine, food, and toiletries, among other things (scroll down to see what they look like).
Under Virginia’s UAS IPP, Wing has previously worked with Virginia Tech’s Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership (MAAP). Christianburg’s proximity to the Virginia Tech campus contributed to Wing’s decision to conduct its pilot program there—Virginia Tech is located in Blacksburg, VA, just a 15-minute drive from Christianburg.
Wing claims that drone deliveries can “provide a new avenue of growth for local businesses.” In fact, Wing has invited local businesses to inquire about how to get their goods delivered as part of the pilot program. Inquiries can be made here on the Wing website.
Wing is also vocal about its environmental goals, saying that it aims to cut down on emissions and reduce traffic congestion by providing access to products via drone delivery through programs like the one it will be testing next month in Virginia.
How You Can Get Drone Deliveries if You Live in Christianburg
In order to receive drone deliveries as part of the pilot program, customers in Christianburg must:
[Looking to improve your drone pilot skills? Check out our drone training classes in Virginia.]
The launch of the VA pilot program will make Walgreens the first pharmacy in the U.S. to offer products to customers via drone delivery.
As far as what will be delivered, Wing says that Walgreens will be using its drones to provide health products, wellness items, and over-the-counter medicine. In addition to testing drone delivery, another goal of the pilot program in Virginia will be exploring how drones might be able to help improve access to healthcare.
Here is what the customized Wing/Walgreens box for drone delivery looks like:
FedEx Express customers in Christianburg who sign up for drone deliveries and live in one of the designated delivery zones will be able to get certain packages delivered by drone (specific details on what these packages are have not been released, as far as we know).
FedEx is constantly innovating and testing solutions to meet growing customer needs, and we are excited to add this pilot to our portfolio of first-in-kind innovation.
– Don Colleran, President and CEO of FedEx Express
Here is what the customized Wing/FedEx boxes for drone delivery look like:
Sugar Magnolia is a Southwest Virginia retailer that sells gifts, stationery, paper goods, chocolate, and other treats.
We don’t have any information right now on whether Wing also has a special box created for their goods, but we imagine one of the FedEx boxes could probably serve the same function for Sugar Magnolia.
Wing and Drone Deliveries
Although the VA pilot program will be Wing’s first time testing drone deliveries in the U.S., this is not at all the company’s first time out.
Wing’s first drone deliveries were made in Australia. Since then, the company has expanded its delivery operations to Finland. In the time since its first drone delivery, Wing has made an impressive 80,000 flights between Finland, Australia, and the U.S. combined.
Back in April, Wing became the first drone company to be certified by the FAA as an air carrier. The certification is a novel way to approach the regulatory side of drone deliveries, since, according to Wing, it allows the company to make commercial deliveries with its fleet of aircraft—that is, with drones.
Of course, Wing isn’t the only company making strides on the drone delivery front.
To give you a sense for how hot drone deliveries are right now, here’s a list of just some of the drone delivery stories we’ve seen in the last few months:
As you can see it’s a crowded landscape. We’ve certainly come a long way since just one year ago, when it looked like drone deliveries might be forever stalled by regulatory hurdles.
But there is still a ways to go yet before drone deliveries become commonplace in the U.S. The next step will be the transition from testing to regular deliveries, and that one will be a doozy.
What do you think—how long will it take before we’ll see drones making regular commercial deliveries here in the U.S.? Hop into this thread in the UAV Coach community forum to share your thoughts.