Alphabet’s Wing to Launch Drone Delivery in Dallas-Fort Worth Area

Wing will launch a drone delivery service in the Dallas-Fort Worth area on Thursday in what will be the alphabet Inc.

the subsidiary’s largest rollout in the US and a customer’s first drone initiative.

Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc., Wing’s largest customer in the US, will make deliveries from a parking lot in the town of Little Elm, Texas. Using Wing’s drone delivery app, customers can choose from 100 items, including over-the-counter medicines and household supplies, a Walgreens spokesperson said.

Products supplied through 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 at a collection point at a mixed-use development in Frisco, Texas , by Employees of the wing. Wing plans to let customers make their own drone deliveries over time. Wing said supplies will be limited to “tens of thousands of suburban homes” in Frisco and Little Elm for now.

“This third-party delivery model gives companies the ability to reach their customers faster and cheaper than ever before,” said Alexa Dennett, Wing’s head of communications.

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

Drone companies are increasingly allowed to expand their operations in the US as the technology underlying air delivery improves.

Wing’s drones travel 65 miles per hour and can carry up to 3.3 pounds of goods. Travel time to a destination is typically less than 10 minutes, Wing says, and the drones have a range of 12 miles round trip. The drones are about 1.20 meters long, have a wingspan of more than one meter and weigh about 10 kilograms, the company said.

A Walgreens team member attaches a delivery package to a line lowered by a floating Wing drone.


Photo:

Wing

At the Little Elm operation, Walgreens team members are on hand 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 lowered to the ground in the same way for customer pick-up. The pack will unhook itself automatically and the drone will fly back to the collection station where it will recharge, 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 spokesman said. Wing declined to comment on the number of drones involved, noting that the number varies based on the number of orders.

Texas Health Resources, a network of not-for-profit hospitals, said it is in initial discussions to expand the scope of a first aid kit delivery program. One possibility is the use of drones to transport medical supplies between facilities.

“When you think about speeding up labs… people in dire need of supplies that we might have in one facility and not in another, you don’t have to worry about traffic,” said Bart Ingram, senior vice president of product development at Texas Health Resources.

Andrew Lipsman, chief analyst at research firm eMarketer, said regulations are an important use case for drone deliveries.

“Prescriptions are light, they’re often of high urgency … consumer benefit is really high,” he said.

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

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Wing said it has received aviation certification from the Federal Aviation Administration, which gives the company permission to use commercial drones, along with permission to operate in Frisco and Little Elm.

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

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

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

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

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