Google’s parent company Alphabet Inc. is on the verge of launching what the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) says will be the world’s first commercial drone delivery service in Australia.
Wing, a subsidiary of Alphabet has been testing its drone delivery service over Bonython, a suburb of Tuggeranong, a township in southern Canberra. The year-long trial, called Project Wing, wrapped up last week; now the company is planning for a commercial launch in June.
Wing says its drones will be able to deliver small items, such as food and medication, but residents of Canberra, where the program was tested and will soon be ready for commercial flight, are furious about drones buzzing above.
Here is how Wing’s drone works
Alphabet and Wing are expected to face a fierce fight before the delivery program takes off, according to ABC. In response to the public backlash, Wing recently tested a quieter version of its delivery drone. “We’re trying to be as transparent and as open as we can,” Project Wing CEO James Burgess told the Canberra Times. Many Bonython residents told local Government officials the invasive drones had brought people to madness, and residents told police if the government did not intervene, they would shoot the drones out of the sky. “It is not inevitable, if the Government can be convinced that the great majority of Canberrans don’t want it,” local Neville Sheather said. Sheather leads Bonython Against Drones, a group that is trying to stop the progress of Alphabet and Wing from commercializing the delivery service. Even some advocates of drones, like Professor Roger Clarke, have said Project Wing had developed too quickly. “We’ve got to get the different segments of the public represented in these discussions, and they haven’t been,” Professor Clarke said. Clarke said Project Wing had been rushed through testing and is not following the traditional process of assessing new technologies.
“Things fall out of the sky, it’s quite hard to get drones to work properly, it’s quite hard to deal with drones when they lose communications … we should be treating it that way and applying the precautionary principle and getting out ahead of the problem.”
Australian Capital Territory Minister Andrew Barr denied claims the government was allowing Project Wing to be expedited during the testing phase.
Instead, he warned that if Canberra and its residents did not accept the drone delivery service, it would fall behind the technological curve.
“Our choice is are we involved, are we trialing, are we engaging, are we finding ways to make this technology work in a way that benefits people, or are we just going to sit back and let it happen?” he said.
Wing and Google are currently waiting for government approval to begin their next test in Gungahlin, limited to five suburbs: Crace, Palmerston, Franklin, Gungahlin, and Mitchell.
The company expects to start drone deliveries midway this year.