A Google affiliate on Friday began using drones to distribute Walgreens and FedEx purchases to customers in a trial run in the city of Virginia.
Wing, which is owned by Google Parent Alphabet, received US federal approval earlier this year to make commercial deliveries by drone. It was the first drone company in the US to receive approval in the US, beating Amazon’s Prime Air, which revealed its drone plan in 2013.
Earlier this month, UPS also received approval from the Federal Aviation Administration to fly a delivery drone. The company is running delivery tests with WakeMed’s hospital campus in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Wing partnered with Walgreens, FedEx and local gift shop Sugar Magnolia to conduct the trial in Christiansburg, Virginia. Walgreens customers in the city will be able to order from a list of over 100 items and have them delivered to their doorstep by drone.
First Walgreens drone delivery customers ordered cough and cold medicine. A wing drone transported the FedEx package from Dick’s Sporting Goods to another family in the city.
Susie Sensemeyer received a purple winter vest, which he ordered from Dix Sporting Goods to be delivered by drone to his front yard. The 81-year-old said she never thought she would see something like this.
“I didn’t think I would survive or it wouldn’t come in my lifetime, I’m thrilled,” she said.
The drones will start with a flight radius of approximately 4 miles (6.5 kilometers) from the wing’s distribution facility in Christiansburg. The drones are capable of a 12-mile (19 km) round trip, and the wing eventually hopes to widen its radius, although it did not provide a timeline for the expansion.
Wing has already begun trials in Canberra and Logan City, Australia and Helsinki. But Friday flights marked their first live commercial delivery in the US since receiving air carrier certification from the FAA.
Wing CEO James Ryan Burgess said drones can deliver with speed – sometimes within minutes of ordering – and the environmental benefits of short-delivery trucks on the roads.
“We’re seeing trends in cities including congestion and environmental sustainability,” he said. “We see drone delivery as the key part of the solution.”
In Wing’s Australia pilot, Burgess said that many deliveries are for food and cold medicine – things people may need when they don’t need to leave home. But another popular drone delivery item is hot coffee, which the company is distributing in partnership with local coffee-houses. He said that coffee is hot because delivery often takes less than four minutes.
Privacy and security concerns have been a concern in the US as the use of drones increased. But Burgess insisted that Wing’s delivery drone is not operating with the same intent as flown for hobbies.
The wing’s drone is not intended to take pictures and videos, he said, but rather to deliver safely. Wing’s drones have cameras that are used for navigation, but Burgess said the images are processed on the aircraft and not sent back to the wing’s main server.
Wing has indicated that it plans to expand the service to other cities, but has not disclosed details.