Alphabet’s Project Wing has gained approval from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to conduct commercial drone flights in Virginia.
The company, sometimes simply called Wing, has been conducting trials in the state since 2016, but the new FAA authorization will allow it to finally sell things like food or medicine ordered by consumers through the Wing app.
Wing received approval for commercial drone deliveries in Australia in a “world-first” earlier this month. The company has partnered with local fast food restaurants, cafes, and drugs stores to deliver goods to roughly 100 homes in the suburbs surrounding Australia’s capital city of Canberra. Wing says that they’ve conducted over 70,000 test flights and completed more than 3,000 home deliveries in Australia to date.
After today’s FAA Air Carrier Certification, Wing will be able to do the same thing in the U.S., though it’s not immediately clear which will be the company’s first delivery partners. Previous tests by Wing in Virginia included sending Chipotle burritos to students at Virginia Tech in a controlled environment, but the company will be reaching out to businesses in the Blacksburg and Christiansburg areas to show off the technology and “gather feedback,” according to the FAA in a statement emailed to Gizmodo. Wing says it hopes to start deliveries “later this year.”
Wing published a statement on Medium this morning explaining the potential benefits of drone delivery:
For communities across the country, this presents new opportunities. Goods like medicine or food can now be delivered faster by drone, giving families, shift workers, and other busy consumers more time to do the things that matter. Air delivery also provides greater autonomy to those who need assistance with mobility. Also, our all-electric drones will reduce traffic on our roads and pollution and carbon emissions in our skies.
Wing’s drones have evolved over the years, and the company boasts that they’re completely electric and zero emissions. Their current model of uncrewed aircraft takes off before it’s fitted with a delivery package, as you can see in the GIF below from Australia.
The biggest problem that still needs to be worked out is the noise generated by the aircraft. The drones can be quite loud as they buzz overhead in residential areas. The current models can fly as high as 400 feet and are guided by machine learning algorithms, according to the company. They have a top speed of 75 miles per hour.
Wing did not immediately respond to Gizmodo’s requests for comment.
Wing isn’t the only company that’s working on drone delivery, but it’s the first to actually get its commercial business off the ground. Amazon promised back in December of 2013 that drone deliveries were just five years away. It turns out that the tech giant was right, but they weren’t the company that would be doing it successfully. That being said, nationwide delivery via drone remains firmly in the future.
“This is an important step forward for the safe testing and integration of drones into our economy,” U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao said in a statement emailed to Gizmodo. “Safety continues to be our Number One priority as this technology continues to develop and realize its full potential.”