Drones have delivered some pretty cool things in 2021. Zipline drones have delivered hundreds of thousands of COVID-19 vaccines to people in rural Africa and the suburbs of the United States. Drones from Flytrex are flying chicken from El Pollo Loco to customers in Southern California. Drones were even used as part of an organ transplant procedure when Airspace Link and Workhorse Group partnered to deliver 3D-printed kidneys.
All of these deliveries have one thing in common, though; none of them were conducted in densely populated areas. For many drone delivery companies, the ultimate goal is to be able to operate within cities, yet the complex lattice of people and buildings makes urban drone delivery a challenge.
But Wing, the drone delivery subsidiary of Alphabet, announced Wednesday that it will pioneer a model that would allow drone delivery to expand into metropolitan areas. Wing will use drones to deliver directly to customers from a Walgreens location in the Dallas-Fort Worth region, making Walgreens (NASDAQ: WBA) the first U.S. retailer to use drone delivery in a major metropolitan area.
“Until now, this type of service in the United States has been limited to smaller towns, where land usage is less crowded and complex,” Wing said in a blog post announcing the new partnership. “Wing’s reliable aircraft and advanced flight planning and routing capabilities make it uniquely capable of operating a highly automated drone delivery service in more crowded, complex operating environments.”
A fleet of Wing drones will be delivered to the Walgreens store in small containers that double as miniature hangars, allowing the store to deploy them from its parking lot, from small spaces next to the store building and even off of its roof. Walgreens employees will handle the processing and loading of packages onto the drones, while Wing will oversee the operation of the delivery service.
Additionally, Wing will launch a separate drone delivery facility inside the urban mixed-use development center Frisco Station in the city of Frisco, Texas, in collaboration with real estate development company Hillwood. That facility will focus on exploring new use cases and will be used to show off Wing’s tech in community demonstrations, field trips and public tours.
The drones delivering out of the Walgreens in Dallas-Fort Worth will also serve parts of Frisco and the town of Little Elm, Texas. They will be capable of carrying 3 pounds of payload while traveling 65 miles per hour, and Wing says the entire process from ordering to delivery will take about 10 minutes, on average.
Since June, Wing has been conducting test flights at Hillwood’s AllianceTexas Flight Test Center in Fort Worth in preparation for the launch of the new delivery model. Next week, the Alphabet subsidiary plans on conducting practice flights in Frisco and Little Elm, with demonstrations for community members planned over the following few weeks.
This isn’t Wing’s first partnership with Walgreens – in fact, the two companies have been collaborating on a similar drone delivery project in the suburb of Christiansburg, Virginia, since October 2019, delivering everything from kids’ snacks to over-the-counter medications. In April of that year, the company became the first drone operator in the U.S. to receive air carrier certification from the FAA.
Wing has had some success in urban areas outside of U.S. airspace. The company first got off the ground in Australia, where it’s been serving 110,000 people in the city of Logan since September 2019. And drone delivery is still hot in Logan – the city’s residents made nearly 4,500 deliveries in the first week of August this year. This year also marked Wing’s third year operating in Helsinki, where it airdrops food and grocery items in the Finnish capital.
As of September, Wing had completed 100,000 deliveries worldwide. So far, none of them have been in major U.S. cities, but with a new model of drone delivery, the sky truly is the limit.