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04/07/2022

Alphabet reaches historic first in commercial drone delivery

Dan Berthiaume
Senior Editor, Technology
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Wing
Wing is taking flight with commercial drone deliveries in Texas.

The drone technology subsidiary of Google parent Alphabet is launching the first-ever commercial drone delivery service in a major U.S. metropolitan area.

Wing Aviation is now offering commercial drone deliveries in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. Specifically, Wing is providing drone-based fulfillment of online orders placed from tens of thousands of homes in the suburbs of Frisco and Little Elm.

Wing is staging drones at a local Walgreens store to fly health and wellness products directly to customer homes. The company has an existing partnership with Walgreens dating back to 2019, when the drugstore giant went live with a trial of “store to door” delivery of health and wellness, food and beverage, and convenience items via drone delivery in Christianburg, Va. (Prescription deliveries were not available in the pilot.)

In addition to Wing Aviation, Walgreens conducted the pilot in conjunction with FedEx. Launch of the pilot made Walgreens the first retailer to offer on-demand drone delivery service in the U.S. 

According to the Wall Street Journal, Walgreens employees at the Little Elm staging location will attach products for delivery to lines hanging down from the Wing drones. The drones then pull the items up and deliver them to customers, who will retrieve their orders from the same lines, which will drop down for them. Flights will be autonomous, but Wing pilots remotely based in California and Texas will monitor the flights for safety,

In addition to Walgreens, Wing will be delivering items with three new partners in Frisco and Little Elm. These include partnerships to deliver frozen ice cream from Blue Bell Creameries, prescription pet medications from easyvet, and first aid kits from Texas Health.

Not everyone who lives within range of Wing’s drones in the target delivery areas will be able to order as the service initially goes live. Wing plans to invite customers in groups, in what the company says is an effort to help ensure everyone has a good first experience with drone delivery.

Wing initially received certification as a small airline from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in April 2019, allowing the company to charge money to perform actual drone-based deliveries to consumers.

Efforts to use drones to streamline delivery are hardly limited to Wing or Walgreens. FedEx Express, a subsidiary of FedEx, recently teamed up with Elroy Air, provider of an end-to-end autonomous vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) aerial cargo system. FedEx Express will test Elroy Air’s Chaparral autonomous air cargo system within the company’s middle-mile logistics operations.

Other examples include an ongoing collaboration between CVS and UPS to deliver prescription Rx drugs via drone.

This is an important milestone for Wing and drone delivery in the U.S.,” the company said in a corporate blog post announcing the new service. “Thanks again to everyone who helped us get to this exciting week. We look forward to serving you soon!”