Pie from the sky: drone delivery lands in Texas town

Published September 29, 2022
A drone secures an order before flying from Wing facility during a demonstration in Frisco, Texas, on Aug 31.—AFP
A drone secures an order before flying from Wing facility during a demonstration in Frisco, Texas, on Aug 31.—AFP

FRISCO: The little aircraft appeared out of the blue sky above a Texas home, deposited its payload of a mid-morning snack in the yard and zoomed off, as deliveries by drone start becoming a reality in America.

Flying shipments of pizzas and birthday gifts have still not become the norm that tech leaders predicted, but the service is available in parts of the United States and government regulation is catching up.

Sceptics question whether drone drop-offs can ever work on a large scale, but backers argue they are safer and better for the planet than hulking, greenhouse-gas-spewing delivery trucks — and faster.

The parcel lowered to the ground from an electric drone hovering above Tiffany Bokhari’s Frisco, Texas, house was in her hands minutes after she placed an order on a smartphone app.

“On the soda, you can even see the condensation on it because it’s still cold,” she said after the drone from Alphabet-owned Wing had flown off. Service was new in the area and remained small-scale, but Wing offered the comparison of the up to 1,000 deliveries per day it’s doing in just one part of the Brisbane metro area in Australia.

Blood and tooth brushes

A handful of firms already have operations running or will by year’s end in parts of Texas, North Carolina or California, with providers including Israeli startup Flytrex, Wing and e-commerce behemoth Amazon.

In fact, it was Amazon founder Jeff Bezos who in 2013 unveiled a delivery drone in a CBS interview, predicting that within five years airborne shipments would be routinely zipping from fulfillment centers to customers’ doorsteps.

Things haven’t quite gone that way for the company that has otherwise seeped ubiquitously into aspects of modern life, from streaming and food shopping to health care.

When an Amazon delivery drone crashed during a test last year and started a brush fire, it was another setback for the company’s stumbling drone ambitions.

The work has advanced more steadily for others, and in April, Wing announced what it calls “the first commercial drone delivery service” in a major US metro area: Texas’s Dallas-Fort Worth.

Wing, which also offers deliveries to some areas in Australia and Finland, has a weight limit of 2.5-3 pounds (just over one kilo).

“An entire roasted chicken... that’s actually a good visual for the size of what fits,” said Jonathan Bass, who heads marketing and communications for Wing.

Take-out food, prescriptions and household items like toothbrushes are the type of small and light products that have worked for airborne drop-offs, though drones have for years delivered essential items like medical goods in parts of Africa.

Drone drop-offs of perishable substances like blood make sense in places where infrastructure is lacking and air transport is the best option, yet some experts are sceptical of whether it works everywhere.

Published in Dawn, September 29th, 2022

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