The first-of-its-kind drone delivery service coming to Christiansburg will launch later this month and the area that will be included is now mapped, according to Wing Aviation.
Wing hasn’t announced an exact date for the delivery start, but it did release its delivery zone that covers much of the town near its headquarters on Welcome Street by the Lowe’s and Grand Rodeo Mexican Restaurant.
Rough parameters of the zone include Belmont Christian Church, the NRV Mall, Christiansburg High School and neighborhoods off of Peppers Ferry Road such as Carma Heights and Windmill Hills.
Wing spokesman Jonathan Bass said the drones can travel up to six miles, but the company is starting off with a range of a few miles. He said the company chose Christiansburg because of its ties with Virginia Tech and its drone division, Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership.
“We looked for an area close by that would allow us to set up in a commercial district … and then serve a nearby residential area,” Bass said.
Walgreens will offer over-the-counter medicines, foods, beverages and other items. Sugar Magnolia will sell chocolates, popcorn, stationery and some other small gift items to start. FedEx packages weighing up to 3.3 pounds — the payload the drones can handle — can also be delivered.
The items will be stored at the Wing location, with orders being filled and delivered in 10 minutes or less, Bass said. There is no delivery fee.
Customers in the delivery zone who sign up to use the app for service will also have to mark a 6-feet-by-6-feet area for the drone to drop off a package. Bass said the drones will fly to their destinations at approximately 100 to 150 feet in the air and lower to 23 feet before a tether lowers a package to the ground.
Drones will fly autonomously through the company’s GPS system, but someone monitoring the deliveries — like an air traffic controller — will have the ability to control the aircraft if needed, Bass said.
To return items, customers can either go to Walgreens for store credit or, for those seeking a cash refund from any of the companies involved, items would need to be returned through Wing, which would facilitate the return without using drones, Bass said.
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.
The Christiansburg deliveries will be the first in the United States.
Bass said customer feedback will dictate how the program progresses and whether more businesses will be added to the product list and whether the delivery zone will be expanded.
The company is conducting the trial through a federal drone integration program that lasts through the fall of 2020, but Bass said there is no timetable for how long the company stays in the area.
Wing has more information, including job openings, on its website www.wing.com/va. Two demonstrations will take place Saturday from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. at Belmont Christian Church and from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. behind the Christiansburg Recreation Center.