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Alphabet’s Wing to launch drone delivery in the Dallas-Fort Worth area


Wing launches drone delivery service Thursday in the Dallas-Fort Worth area in what will be the Alphabet Inc.

the subsidiary’s largest deployment in the United States and its first customer-operated drone initiative.

Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc., Wing’s largest customer in the United States, will arrange deliveries from a store parking lot in the town of Little Elm, Texas. Through Wing’s drone delivery app, customers will be able to choose from 100 items, including over-the-counter medications and household essentials, a Walgreens spokesperson said.

Products delivered by other Wing customers, including ice cream from Blue Bell Creameries, first aid kits from Texas Health Resources and pet prescriptions from easyvet veterinary clinics, will be handled in a staging area. ‘a mixed-use development in Frisco, Texas, by Wing Employees. Over time, Wing expects customers to operate their own drone deliveries. Wing said deliveries will be limited to “tens of thousands of suburban homes” in Frisco and Little Elm for now.

“This third-party delivery model will give businesses the ability to reach their customers faster and cheaper than ever before,” said Alexa Dennett, communications manager for Wing.

Wing also operates commercial drone services in Christiansburg, Virginia, Finland and Australia. Most of its 200,000 commercial drone deliveries have been made in Australia, according to the company.

Drone companies have increasingly been allowed to expand their operations into the United States as the technology underpinning aerial delivery improves.

Wing’s drones travel 65 miles per hour and can carry up to 3.3 pounds of cargo. Travel time to a destination is typically less than 10 minutes, according to Wing, and the drones have a range of 12 miles round trip. The drones are about four feet long with a wingspan of more than three feet and weigh about 10 pounds, the company said.

A member of the Walgreens team attaches a delivery package to a line lowered by a hovering Wing drone.


Photo:

Wing

During Operation Little Elm, members of the Walgreens team will stand by to attach delivery items to lines dropped by hovering drones. The drone then rolls up the line and flies to deliver the product to the customer, a Walgreens spokesperson said.

Packages are dropped off on the ground for customer pickup in the same manner. The package unhooks automatically and the drone returns to the transit station where it will charge, Wing said.

While route planning and flight are autonomous, human pilots oversee operations, Wing said. The wing pilots overseeing this operation will be based in California and Texas, a wing spokesperson said. Wing would not comment on the number of drones involved, noting that the number varies depending on the volume of orders.

Texas Health Resources, a network of nonprofit hospitals, said it was in early discussions to expand the scope of a first aid kit delivery program. One possibility is to use drones to ship medical supplies between facilities.

“When you think about accelerating labs…people in critical need of supplies that we might have at one facility and not another, you don’t have to worry about traffic,” said Bart Ingram, vice -Senior President of Product Development at Texas Health Resources. .

Andrew Lipsman, principal analyst at research firm eMarketer, said prescriptions are a key use case for drone deliveries.

“Prescriptions are light, they’re often very urgent…the utility to the consumer is really high,” he said.

How quickly the technology evolves will depend on how quickly companies can gain regulatory approval to move into new geographies and expand the reach of programs, he added.

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Wing said it received an air carrier certification from the Federal Aviation Administration, which gives the company permission to operate commercial drones, as well as permission to operate in Frisco and Little Elm.

The company said it had also applied for type certification from the FAA which would approve the design of the aircraft and all components.

“We are trying to get our planes certified so that we can then deploy the real plane on a large scale,” Ms Dennett said.

No drone delivery company in the United States is currently fully certified to fly anywhere without a human controlling or at least monitoring the aircraft. The FAA says it is developing regulations that would allow it to issue such authorization safely.

Write to Suman Bhattacharyya at Suman.Bhattacharyya@wsj.com

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