Coming to a city near you: the low-frequency buzz of a robot flying over your head. A bevy of companies appear poised to realize the long-held dream of filling America’s cityscapes with the sight of product-clutching drone armadas.
On Saturday, the Wall Street Journal reported that some of the world’s biggest companies had begun to quietly roll out commercial drone delivery services in communities across the country. Amazon, Walmart, and Google’s parent company Alphabet, are all involved, apparently. Many of these companies have already been conducting tests for drone deliveries for quite some time—but this year many of them are officially scaling up and rolling out commercial operations. At the locations that have been selected for business, companies are hoping to make “dozens” or even potentially “hundreds” of deliveries per day, the Journal reports.
One of the first among these is the Alphabet-owned drone company Wing, which announced Monday that it is officially launching its first commercial delivery service in the U.S. this week in Texas. The deliveries will be targeted at multiple neighborhoods throughout the Dallas area, where Wing has been testing deliveries since last year. Deliveries start on Thursday, April 7.
“We’re going to be starting small in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, with service to tens of thousands of suburban homes in the City of Frisco and Town of Little Elm,” said Adam Woodworth, chief technology officer at Wing, in a blog post published Monday. “In addition to Walgreens, we’ll be delivering items with three new partners in Frisco and Little Elm. We’re going to be delivering ice cream from Blue Bell Creameries (yes – it will stay frozen on those hot Texas summer days!), prescription pet medications from easyvet, and first aid kits from Texas Health.”
Woodworth also called the launch the “first ever commercial drone delivery service in a major U.S. metropolitan area.”
Since its inception, the commercial drone delivery industry has weathered a number of challenges, not least of which is the complicated regulatory details that need to be ironed out before a broader deployment of flying delivery workers is realized. The Journal notes that lawmakers have worried about “the things that could go wrong if the skies above America were darkened with swarms of delivery drones—such as drones crash-landing or, worse, colliding with passenger aircraft,” which all seems pretty reasonable.
All of that aside though, I’ll be honest: Even if they work all those kinks out, I sorta don’t love this idea. I don’t love it for a number of reasons but chief among them is the fact that, with few exceptions, drone delivery in urban and metropolitan areas seems almost entirely unnecessary. I could see how automated deliveries might be helpful in a war zone, where medical supplies and food need to be trafficked into a region without risking the lives of service members. They might even be useful in America’s rural environs—where the nearest pharmacy is potentially dozens of miles away and a trip to pick up medicine is an actual chore. But in a metropolitan area like Dallas, where the biggest inconvenience of a store visit is that a person might be forced to actually exert themselves by getting off the couch, what is the actual point?
Proponents of drone deliveries have claimed they will have a positive environmental impact, though the science is largely still out on that claim. You could also see why this service would be helpful for homebound seniors but, then again, we already have human service delivery for that. More to the point: I don’t really want to have to duck flying robots while I’m out for a stroll, all so that some guy down the street can get a box of Mucinex delivered to his house.