Wing completes landmark UAS package delivery in Montgomery County, Virginia

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On Tuesday, August 7, Wing, a subsidiary of Google’s parent corporation Alphabet, completed a landmark UAS package delivery in Montgomery County, Virginia.

After a woman hit order on a mobile app, Wing’s UAS traveled 1.4 miles and delivered a package of ice cream and other frozen treats to a Montgomery County residence in less than 10 minutes.
 
A two-year-old child retrieved the cardboard box, completing the “most advanced drone package delivery to ever occur in the United States,” according to those who conducted the operation.

“You did see something historic today,” says Earl Lawrence, director of the Federal Aviation Administration’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration Office, via the Roanoke Times.

“They can share the fact that the U.S. does have package delivery in its future.”

Wing was previously unable to fly its UAS long distances, over people and beyond the pilot’s line of sight, but that has since changed after Virginia was selected as one of 10 locations to participate in the UAS Integration Pilot Program (IPP) back in May.

Virginia’s application for the UAS IPP proposed three areas for package delivery through a partnership with Wing: Wise County, Montgomery and Roanoke counties and Loudoun County.

Organizers say that the list is subject to change, but Wing nonetheless plans on launching the country’s first UAS delivery service that would reach real customers in residential neighborhoods as part of the program.

Wing’s CEO James Burgess says that the company is gauging interest from localities before it decides when and where the service will be available, as the company only wants to go where it is wanted. Burgess adds that the plan is for the full launch to happen “in the near term.”

​For now, though, Wing and Virginia Tech’s Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership (MAAP) have set up a “nest” at Virginia Tech’s Kentland Farm, which is located along the New River about seven miles from downtown Blacksburg. The nest is a bit of a parking lot for UAS.

​Wing says that it is only conducting demonstrations of the technology there for now, and has not yet launched a commercial package delivery service.

Wing’s UAS package delivery process starts when a customer uses a mobile app to select items, checkout and pay. The vendor, which could be anything from a local restaurant to a convenience store, is then alerted, and employees from that vendor load the box and scan a barcode when it’s ready for delivery.

“When the merchant scans the package, that’s what initiates the aviation side,” Burgess says.

Once the aviation side is initiated, Wing’s automated system begins checking the airspace for other aircraft and no-fly zones. While the system finds the landing zone and plans a route, the UAS wait on charging pads outside.

The computer chooses which UAS is ready for the flight, and that UAS takes off and flies autonomously while a human pilot stands by in the event intervention is needed.

The UAS flies from the nest to the merchant, and a worker there hooks the package onto a string dangling from the UAS. The package is drawn up and the UAS continues on to the final destination.