The Drones Are Coming! How Amazon, Alphabet and Uber Are Taking to the Skies

Article Sebastian Herrera and Alberto Cervantes  | Wall Street Journal

Flying robots that deliver packages to people’s doorsteps are no longer science fiction. While commercial drone delivery faces many hurdles, government-approved tests by the tech giants will mark the first time consumers in parts of the country experience the technology. Wing this month started tests in Christiansburg, Va., while Uber says it will experiment in San Diego before the year ends. Amazon hasn’t revealed where it is operating but said in June it would begin delivering packages to consumers via drone “within months.”

Wing’s drone looks more like a small plane. Its two wings, extending more than 3 feet, each feature a propeller and allow the drone to fly further while conserving energy, the company says. Altogether, the drone has 14 propellers designed to reduce noise. Wing, which started in 2012 as a project in Alphabet’s X lab, began trials in Australia in 2014 and has conducted more than 80,000 tests. Wing is initially working with Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc. and FedEx Corp. to deliver small packages, food, beverages and medicine items in Christiansburg. Wing’s parent also owns Google.

Amazon, Uber and Wing are hardly the only players tinkering with the technology. This month United Parcel Service Inc. gained approval from the Federal Aviation Administration to build out a fleet of unmanned aircraft to deliver health supplies and eventually consumer packages in the U.S.

Experts say wide-scale drone delivery operations will take years to build out. The FAA predicts sales of drones for a wide range of commercial purposes to grow from 600,000 in 2016 to 2.7 million by 2020.

The approaches vary, and success is anything but assured.

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