Alphabet Inc.’s drone subsidiary, Wing, is experimenting with launching its aircraft from the roof of an Australia mall only steps from the stores providing goods for delivery.
Wing LLC has made more than 2,500 deliveries from a mall in Logan City to nearby neighborhoods located south of Brisbane, the company said in a news release last week. The test is being done in partnership with Vicinity Centres, which operates shopping malls across Australia.
“For the first time, we are co-locating our drones with businesses at their premises, rather than local businesses having to co-locate their goods with us at our delivery facility,” Jesse Suskin, Wing’s head of policy and community affairs in Australia, said in the release.
The experiment is an attempt to bring the company’s drone-delivery model closer in line with how small businesses normally operate. So far in its Australia pilot program at the Grand Plaza mall in Logan, Wing has been working with businesses selling sushi, juice and tea-based drinks. A pharmacy is also starting to sell over-the-counter medicine and other items, the company said.
While it’s too soon to know whether such an arrangement could bolster sagging brick-and-mortar stores, Vicinity views the partnership as a way to expand its business, Justin Mills, the company’s innovation and information officer, said.
“The retail industry is changing, and Vicinity is employing a test and learn approach in areas critical to the role of Australian shopping centers in the future,” Mills said in the release.
Wing, Amazon.com Inc.’s Prime Air and United Parcel Service Inc., along with scores of smaller startups, are racing to create a new business model that would use small pilotless aircraft to speed delivery of goods directly to customers.
However, routine, widespread drone deliveries remain years away as companies grapple with factors ranging from the profitability of such businesses to public acceptance. At the same time, the industry is still working out some of the finer points of the potentially earth-shattering technology, such as how to keep scores of autonomous delivery drones from flying into each other. And regulators such as the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration have yet to craft new rules allowing such flights.
A landing pad with room for at least 16 Wing drones was installed on the mall’s roof, according to photos released by the company.
Wing exceeded 100,000 deliveries at its test sites in Australia, the U.S. and Finland. The company has also said it plans to expand test operations in the U.S.
Wing is working with Virginia Tech on its U.S. test program in nearby Christiansburg, Va.
The company operates a hybrid aircraft just over 4 feet long that can take off vertically and then fly horizontally in the same way as a plane. It carries a packet in its belly. Once the drone reaches a customer’s drop point, a cable lowers the packet to the ground while the aircraft hovers overhead.