It’s been more than five years since Jeff Bezos unveiled Amazon’s drone delivery plans on “60 Minutes.” Since the excitement, progress has been slow.
But in a development that points to the field’s potential, Wing, the drone delivery company of Google’s parent company Alphabet, announced Tuesday that it’s delivering food and other items within minutes to a limited number of homes in the suburbs of Canberra, Australia’s capital.
Interest in drone delivery exploded in December 2013 when Bezos said drone delivery was likely four or five years into the future. But Amazon has only announced a small trial in Cambridge, England, near where it has tested drones.
Drone deliveries in the United States have been more limited as companies wait on regulations that will allow fully autonomous drones to fly without being directly monitored by a human. A North Dakota golf course has delivered food to players, and drone startup Flirtey has done 7-11 deliveries in Nevada.
But the biggest drone delivery programs to date are happening overseas. Zipline, a Silicon Valley-based startup, says it’s made 12,000 medical deliveries in Rwanda since 2016. The drones have sped up deliveries to remote clinics, which can be difficult to access by road. Zipline says it will expand to Ghana later this month.
At first, Wing’s deliveries will be limited to 100 households in three suburbs, Crace, Palmerston and Franklin. Wing expects to gradually expand to two more neighbourhoods in the coming months. Delivery will be free for the first three months.
While Wing may appear ahead of Amazon today, there’s still a long way to go before any company is a clear leader. Drone delivery companies face questions about safety and public acceptance. Some neighbours may consider drones a nuisance and privacy invasion if they’re loudly landing in backyards at all hours.
Google previously showed off videos of its drones as they lowered packages to the ground on a rope rather than landing in a backyard. The approach lessens the risk of a drone crashing into a person, pet or property at the delivery site.
Amazon declined to comment for this story.