CHRISTIANSBURG, Va. – People who live around the New River Valley Mall in Christiansburg got to meet their new neighbors Saturday, except this time it's the newcomers to the block quite literally bringing the cake to the people who already live there and not the other way around.
The drone research company Wing, a sister company of Google, will be delivering small cakes, chocolate, and eventually ice cream from local business Sugar Magnolia, medicines and small toiletries from Walgreens, and lightweight items delivered the last mile from FedEx to people in Christiansburg. It's first of its kind testing in the United States, in which a drone will fly out of sight to make a delivery and not just in a closed course.
Saturday's deliveries were ordered on a smartphone app just like people will do as part of testing, verified with a radio transmission, something regular people won't have to do, and in just a few seconds, an ultra-light, self-flying drone appeared with a package in hand. Wing wants to conduct these tests in hopes of rolling out the service for others in the United States, and locals such as Todd Joyce are amazed to see it happen.
"As a graduate of Virginia Tech and I work for Radford in the research that goes on in the area, it's awesome to have it right here in our backyard," Joyce said.
Joyce and his neighbors came out Saturday to meet Wing Aviation. The company is successful in Australia and other places around the globe, and is using the neighborhood around the New River Valley Mall as its American test ground in the hopes of changing the way people shop and do errands.
"We're giving the community a first look at what drone delivery would look like and giving them a chance to ask us any questions that they may have," Wing spokesman Jonathan Bass said.
Selected test participants will download the app and then order from a select number of products that will be stored on site at "the nest," a currently under-construction facility off Peppers Ferry Road where the drones and Wing staff will operate.
The company demonstrated how the drone will take off vertically into the sky and fly at about 70 miles per hour at a cruising altitude between 100 and 200 feet above the ground, over roads businesses and people. When it reaches its destination, the drone will lower and hover to about 25 feet above the ground before dropping its winch and lowering the package to the ground. It then releases the package, winds the winch back up, before ascending back into the sky and returning to where it launched.
"(People will) pick the spot, maybe in their driveway, or in their front yard or backyard that they want the package delivered to and then a few minutes later, the drone will deliver the package exactly to that spot," Bass said.
Christiansburg is the test spot because of the company's close partnership with Virginia Tech and the Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership. The drone will fly within a six-mile radius around the mall and people who live in the area are excited to be a part of history.
"I think it's awesome, we are ready to order the first day," Joyce said. "So we'll have a drone party and get it delivered to the house the first day, if it's available."
Wing said it will launch the service next month. People interested in participating or learning more about the research can visit wing.com/va