Drone Delivery in Suburbs Might Not Take Off

Experts suggest we wait and watch

  • Wing, Alphabet’s drone delivery service, has started commercial operations in Texas.
  • Typically used in sparsely populated areas, Wing claims this is the first drone delivery operation in a densely populated metropolitan area.
  • Other drone delivery experts aren’t entirely convinced the service can add value to its customers over existing road-based delivery methods.
Drone carries express packages in city

Witthaya Prasongsin / Getty Images

Skies over Dallas are buzzing with activity, literally.

In a blog post, Alphabet's drone-delivery service, Wing, announced that it has commenced operations in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, hoping to serve tens of thousands of suburban homes in the area. Drone delivery experts, however, aren't really excited about this particular use case for the aerial vehicles, especially in urban areas.

"I'm skeptical about food and parcel drone deliveries, from a business perspective," Stephen Sutton, CEO of drone service provider, Flyby Guys, told Lifewire over email. "Road vehicles can carry more items for more customers, thus more value. Drones can only do one delivery at a time."

Taking to the Skies

In the blog, Wing CTO Adam Woodworth mentions the service plans to roll out deliveries in multiple neighborhoods in the City of Frisco and Town of Little Elm in a staggered fashion. Wing has been testing deliveries in these areas since last year, and over the next few months, residents in certain neighborhoods will be invited to start placing deliveries via Wing's smartphone app. 

After receiving an order, employees at the store will fill it and take it to the parking lot, where human operators will plan and coordinate the drone's flight. Once the order arrives at the destination, it'll be lowered to the ground for buyers to collect. The delivery service is only available during daylight hours, weather permitting. 

"In addition to Walgreens, we'll be delivering items with three new partners in Frisco and Little Elm. We're going to be delivering ice cream from Blue Bell Creameries (yes—it will stay frozen on those hot Texas summer days!), prescription pet medications from easyvet, and first aid kits from Texas Health," wrote Woodworth.

Wing emerged in 2018 from X, an Alphabet subsidiary that helps germinate moonshot businesses. Since then, it has set up operations in Helsinki, Finland, and Canberra, Australia. 

In an earlier blog post, Wing shared that it completed just over 100,000 drone deliveries in Australia in 2021 and had already surpassed 30,000 in the first two months of 2022.

"Recently, we had our busiest week ever, making more than 1,000 deliveries in a single day (that's a delivery every 25 seconds)," shared Wing. "We've now crossed 200,000 all-time commercial deliveries across our global markets."

Wing also operates in the US in Christiansburg, Virginia, but it's a smaller pilot, and Woodworth refers to the Texas service as the first-ever commercial drone delivery service in a major US metropolitan area.

Big Data

Speaking from experience, Santiago Pinzon, CEO and co-founder of drone delivery startup, Orkid, says the economics of Wing's Texas rollout don't appear to add up when compared to traditional ground-based delivery models.

"With hyperconnectivity and excellent road infrastructure, current drone delivery technology and service might be expensive when compared to a conventional method of transportation," Pinzon told Lifewire via email. 

The key, Pinzon stressed, is to understand how Wing is looking to enhance the existing delivery model. "Maybe more orders per hour when compared to a DoorDash service on a bicycle or scooter?" he suggested.

Person Reaching Out for Gift Carried by Drone Against Blue Sky

Askolds Berovskis / EyeEm / Getty Images

Sutton believes the value of the rollout lies elsewhere. "I do think it's important to gather data for public acceptance from drone deliveries, and I would like to see this data made public once the trials are over. This data will help the industry in its direction for the future," shared Sutton.

Pinzon agrees, saying that in addition to customer data, scalability and unit economics are the three factors determining the use of a drone delivery service in an area deemed good for execution.

Drone deliveries have been pitched to deliver essentials in hazardous and inaccessible environments without risking the lives of delivery personnel. However, the events of the last couple of years have increased the appeal of non-human delivery methods in urban areas as well. 

While Sutton still thinks medical deliveries in remote areas are the future of drone deliveries, he's still looking forward to Wing's rollout in Texas. 

"I think it's great to see drone operations expanding into urban areas," said Sutton. "The normalization of drones in public still has a long way to go, and Wing is boosting the industry globally with their service offering. We are all watching these operations closely."

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