Wing, the Alphabet drone service, launched its first commercial drone delivery in a major metropolitan area on April 7 by making a delivery from a Walgreens store in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. The delivery marked the official launch of a drone-based delivery program that also will offer ice cream from Blue Bell Creameries, prescription pet medications from easyvet and first aid kits from Texas Health.
Plans are for the service to initially expand to reach tens of thousands of homes in Frisco and Little Elm, Texas. Shoppers in the area can check a dedicated website to see if they’re eligible for deliveries and download Wing’s app. Currently, the service doesn’t require customers to sign up and deliveries don’t incur any extra fees.
However, the deliveries are restricted compared to more traditional services: Walgreens offers a limited selection of 100 health and wellness items while Blue Bell only makes deliveries on Friday and Saturday afternoons. Additionally, each retailer currently has its own unique set of neighborhoods that are eligible for drone delivery. The service is expected to expand to encompass a larger area in the coming months.
Alphabet isn’t the only company interested in building out drone shipments — FedEx Express is harnessing the technology for middle-mile logistics. The company has been working with Elroy Air, a developer of autonomous vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) aerial cargo systems, to help the logistics provider move shipments between sortation locations. The partnership launched in January 2020 and the companies expect to pursue certifications and begin flight testing in 2023.
FedEx is utilizing the Chaparral aircraft, a VTOL aerial cargo system that can autonomously pick up 300 to 500 lbs. of cargo and deliver it by air up to 300 miles. The advantage of this system over other air delivery solutions is that it can make long-range flights without the need for airports or charging stations.
“FedEx was built on innovation and we are always looking toward new technologies to help enhance the logistics industry through improved safety, efficiency and customer service,” said Joe Stephens, SVP, Global Planning, Engineering and Technology at FedEx Express in a statement. “We look forward to continued testing and learning throughout our collaboration with Elroy Air.”
Other retailers have started up drone delivery projects but haven’t yet launched actual operations. Walmart made an investment in DroneUp in June 2021 with the goal of launching a drone delivery pilot at a Bentonville, Ark. store, while Amazon received approval to operate a fleet of Prime Air delivery drones from the Federal Aviation Administration in August 2020 but has yet to announce any pilot programs.