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Project Wing, the drone delivery arm of Google parent company Alphabet, has received regulatory approval to start making last-mile commercial drone deliveries in Australia, according to The Verge.
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The company — which claims the program will be the first publicly available last-mile commercial drone delivery program in the world — will begin the deliveries in the coming weeks.
Initially, about 100 homes in the metro area of Canberra — which is home to about 424,000 people — will have access to the service, but Wing plans to expand it over the course of the year.
Wing’s drones will deliver coffee, medicine, small groceries, and other items from stores to customers after they place an order via a mobile app.
The drones won’t be allowed to fly over main roads, at night, or close to people. The service’s launch comes after an 18-month testing period, in which Wing completed about 3,000 deliveries.
Here’s what it means: Wing’s new service in Australia is a technological, operational, and legal achievement which the firm can build on as it further expands its global efforts.
- Wing is also trialing delivery drones in Helsinki and has conducted a test in rural Virginia, showing its drones are capable of operating in a diverse set of environments. When it launched its trial program in Helsinki last year, Wing said that "if our drones can deliver here, they can deliver anywhere," a reference to the cold winter climate in the city. The firm’s launch in Australia — a warm, dry climate — shows the versatility of the company’s delivery drones, which will be important as it looks to expand the program to more locations.
- The program’s regulatory approval in Australia and trial program in Finland show that Wing can work successfully with governments in multiple geographies.Stringent regulations are a top barrier to drone deliveries, especially in the US: The Federal Aviation Administration forbids drones from flying over people or beyond the line-of-sight of the operator, and it hasn’t budged on granting exceptions to those rules beyond single, small-scale tests. But given that Wing has secured approval commercially operate or test drones in two international markets, the regulatory barrier no longer appears insurmountable.
The bigger picture: Wing’s program in Canberra doesn’t threaten other prominent companies working on drone deliveries — yet.Wing is just one of many companiesdevelopinglast-mile drone deliveries: Logistics firms (UPS, FedEx, and DHL), retailers (Amazon, Walmart, and Target) and even digitally native mobility firms (Uber) are actively exploring drone deliveries.
Wing’s early success in Australia doesn’t currently threaten these other players because it’s a small-scale project, delivering items to a limited geographic radius in an overseas market.
However, if Wing were to start delivering larger parcels, move into a major US metro area, or strike a partnership with a retailer, it could be a major wake-up call to other firms interested in drone deliveries. Wing would pose a significant threat to the services offered by logistics giants like UPS, FedEx, and Amazon if it made technological or strategic progress in any of these avenues.
Logistics companies should watch Wing’s progress in Canberra and other markets with interest, as there’s much at stake in the race toward standardizing deliveries by drone: The global drone transportation and logistics space will be worth $29 billion in 2027, per Research and Markets.
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