Drone delivery tests underway in Virginia

Published: Dec. 6, 2019 at 3:30 PM EST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

Online shopping has led to more Americans having products delivered to their door. Trucks are the traditional way to get them there but now a new method is taking flight: drone delivery.

The Google-owned company Wing is teaming up with Walgreens and FedEx to test the technology in Christiansburg, Virginia.

The pilot program allows people in the town to order certain items online. Those items are packaged then tethered to a self-flying drone. After reeling it in, the aircraft uses a camera and GPS to find its destination. The Wing drones are autonomous, but right now a supervisor monitors every delivery.

"Generally across our trials, it's the snacks and edible options that are the most popular," said Jonathan Bass of Wing.

Bass adds that a delivery typically takes 10 minutes or less.

The expectation is that drones will be used to fly from a nearby store or complete the last mile of a delivery from a truck.

"The drones can fly in a wide variety of weather. We don't fly in high winds, winds above 20 miles per hour," Bass said.

FedEx wants to see how well it works before expanding. The program has FAA clearance, but U.S. regulators are still developing rules for where and when the unmanned vehicles can operate across the country.

"We're in unchartered territory relative to designing and developing policy around, you know, drones flying over people's houses, in specific communities," said Joe Stephens, the senior VP of global engineering and transformation for FedEx Express.

Other companies are also racing to meet this market. Amazon has been developing drones for years. CVS and UPS are partnering, as well. But it might be years before the technology takes off nationwide.