Girl Scout cookies fly with drone deliveries

01 May, 2021
Girl Scout cookies fly with drone deliveries
A Google affiliate is using drones to provide homemade cookies to people’s doorsteps in the US.

The city of Christiansburg, Virginia, is a testing ground for commercial delivery drones operated by Wing, a subsidiary of Alphabet.

Now the business is adding the boxed biscuits to the more mundane pharmacy offerings, FedEx packages and locally made pastries, tacos and cold-brew coffees it's been hauling to thinly populated districts since 2019.

Wing said it began speaking with local Girl Scout troops, who have had trouble selling cookies through the pandemic, because fewer people are on trips.

“I’m excited that I get to be part of history,” said Gracie Walker, 11, of the lady Scouts of Virginia Skyline Troop 224.

“People are likely to realise and become, like, ‘Hey, this is better for the surroundings and I can just walk outside in my own pyjamas and get cookies'.”

Wing is wanting to build public enthusiasm for drone deliveries since it competes against Amazon, Walmart, UPS and others to overcome the countless technical and regulatory challenges of flying goods over residential areas.

Federal officials earned new rules in mid-April that permit operators to fly small drones over persons and at night, potentially giving a boost to commercial make use of the machines. Most drones should be equipped so police can identify them remotely.

The 22-kilogram Wing drone that made the first deliveries in Christiansburg in the autumn of 2019 is already an artefact held at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. Whether it'll go down ever sold as a revolutionary innovation or a utopian flop remains to be seen.

Amazon has been focusing on drone delivery for a long time. In 2013, its founder Jeff Bezos said in a TV interview that drones would be flying to customers’ homes within five years, but that deadline has long since passed. The business did win government approval to provide packages by drones in August this past year, but Amazon said it had been still testing them and has yet to provide goods to shoppers.

David Vos, an aerospace engineer who led Google’s Wing project until 2016, said he was surprised that drone delivery ventures have not taken off more quickly.

“I thought it had been completely doable to be up and going by 2021,” Mr Vos said. While he still thinks drone technology gets nearer to delivering the size, weight and power needed to transport goods safely in populated places, he said the tech industry also requires a cultural shift.

Specifically, he said, it requires to bring on persons from the traditional aviation industry who've experience building “safety-critical systems” that meet strict performance standards.

Wing’s drones will be able to navigate autonomously - with out a human pilot controlling them remotely - and are powered by two forward propellers on the wings and 12 smaller vertical propellers. When a drone reaches its destination, it hovers above the front lawn as a tether releases to drop the package.

“It had been so smooth and it didn’t shake,” said Gracie ho, before her troop added drones to its sales strategy, would don a mask and setup a cookie booth outside a do-it-yourself shop.

“They look like a helicopter but also a plane.”

There is little evidence that consumers are clamouring for drone delivery, and many have expressed privacy, safety or nuisance concerns when asked to assume the noisy machines over their homes.

Wing objected to some of the Federal Aviation Administration’s new drone rules on privacy grounds, saying the remote identification requirement could allow observers to snoop on delivery routes online.

But in a tiny survey of Christiansburg residents by researchers at nearby Virginia Tech that Wing helped to invest in, most townspeople were quite happy with the drones.

“Among the reasons is because Virginia Tech is here now and there’s an engineering culture of trying new things,” said Lee Vinsel, an assistant professor of science, technology and society who conducted the smaller survey. “And the suburban set-up is easiest for drone delivery.”

He said that might not be the case for more densely populated places. “Manhattan will be tough.”