Wing unveils Christiansburg site that will serve as hub for drone delivery later this year

- Jacob Demmitt | The Roanoke Times

Wing, a company pioneering drone delivery around the world, is preparing to submit a site plan for a proposed air delivery hub in the heart of Christiansburg’s commercial district, according to company spokesman Jonathan Bass.

The planned local headquarters would be off Welcome Street, near the Lowe’s, O’Charley’s and Gran Rodeo Mexican restaurant.

The company isn’t ready to say what it will be delivering from the site, or which neighborhoods will be part of the first-of-its-kind service in the country. The date of the service’s start has also not been announced.

But Bass did say the company is still expecting to launch drone delivery by the end of the year, hopefully this fall.

He also said Wing will have a booth at Blacksburg’s Steppin’ Out festival this weekend. Employees will be there to answer questions and to show the public what the drones will look like before they begin flying around town.

The booth will be located around Main Street, between Roanoke and Lee streets.

The announcement offers the clearest picture yet of the company’s plans for the region, as the New River Valley is set to become one of the first places in the world with a drone delivery service.

Wing, one of Google’s sister companies, first made national news for delivering burritos near Virginia Tech’s campus for a few weeks in 2016.

The company then shifted its focus to Australia, where it launched its first full-fledged drone delivery trial in 2018, followed by Helsinki, Finland, earlier this year.

Christiansburg is set to become the third drone delivery trial location – and the first in the U.S.

Wing hasn’t disclosed its reasoning for first choosing the town of 22,000 people located more than 2,600 miles from the company’s Silicon Valley headquarters.

But Bass did say Virginia Tech helped with the site selection process.

The university’s Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership has worked closely with the Federal Aviation Administration on drone development for years.

It helped organize a statewide effort to be accepted into the White House-initiated UAS Integration Pilot Program, which substantially lowered regulations on commercial drone use across Virginia in 2018.

A few different companies are using that designation through MAAP. State Farm is working with Tech researchers to use drones for damage assessments. Dominion Energy has expressed interest in using drones for infrastructure inspections.

And Wing is getting ready to begin drone delivery.

“None of this would have been possible without the continuing partnership with Virginia Tech’s Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership,” Bass wrote in an email.

A lot of the drone delivery specifics are still unknown, but Wing has said during past demonstrations that the idea is to partner with retailers in the area.

Shoppers would order items through a smartphone app, and then the automated system takes over.

The drones fly themselves to the retailer, pick up the package, fly to the customer’s home and hover overhead while a string lowers the products to the ground in a small cardboard box.

Wing has not said where the service will be available in Christiansburg, but the company has said in the past its drones can fly about six miles. That means they could theoretically reach well beyond Interstate 81 to the south of its nest and north of the Drillfield on Tech’s campus.

Sen. Mark Warner has been an advocate of drone technology for years. He lobbied for the state to be included in the federal drone integration program and came to Montgomery County last year so he could see Wing’s drones in action for himself.

He said in statement after the company’s announcement that he has worked to bring drone delivery technology to Virginia because the potential it has to become an economic boon for the region.

“I believe unmanned technology has the potential to fundamentally transform our economy and our lives — and southwest Virginia is poised to be at the forefront,” he said in the statement.

Original article at The Roanoke Times, here.

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