Drone deliveries begin to take over the United States – Ouest-France evening edition

By François PICARD with Joshua MELVIN (Agence France-Presse)

Touted for years, drone deliveries have actually become a reality in some regions of the United States. This is the case in Frisco, Texas, where the flying machines of Wing, a subsidiary of the parent company Google, have already placed the first orders made online by consumers.

A drone appeared in the big sky of Texas, placed a small cardboard box in a suburban garden and left immediately, almost without noise, without caring about the neighborhood. Heralded for years, utopia for some, dystopia for others, drone deliveries have become a reality in some parts of the United States. Skeptics doubt they can be deployed on a large scale while their defenders see them as a safer, greener and faster alternative to trucks.

That day, in Frisco, north of Dallas, Tiffany Bokhari received her chips and sparkling water a few minutes after placing an order on an application made by Wing, a subsidiary of Alphabet, the parent company of Google. “The bottle is still wet and very fresh”, encouraged the 51-year-old Texan, who opened the box that had just been placed on the ground.

United States, Australia, Finland…

The Wing currently covers only a few tens of square kilometers in the region where it is content to deliver goods from the Walgreens brand and the local ice cream parlor Blue Bell. But the company already provides up to 1,000 daily deliveries in the urban part of Brisbane, Australia. It is also available in Finland and limits its loads to more than one kilogram, “become roast chicken”Jonathan Bass, Wing’s marketing and communications director, smiled. “to help visualize what to bring”.

While hot meals, medicine and small items like toothbrushes are gradually finding their place in the American sky, medical equipment has been carried by drone for years in some regions. in Africa. Propeller-driven vehicles are used there to deliver perishable products such as blood when there is no reliable air infrastructure.

The United States is not there yet, but such services continue to be deployed in Texas, California, Virginia and North Carolina thanks to Wing, the Israeli Flytrex or the e-commerce giant Amazon. The founder of the latter, Jeff Bezos, made headlines in 2013 after revealing his first drone delivery tests on the CBS television channel. He predicted their generalization in the next five years. Nothing happened despite the company’s deployment in many everyday areas, from streaming to health and food.

A Walgreens employee watches a delivery drone take off in Little Elm, Texas. (Photo: ANDY JACOBSOHN / AFP)

Limits are pointed out

A 10-hectare plant fire started by one of its engines during a crash last year has somewhat cooled the group’s heat. Development has been less turbulent for Wing, which last April launched “The first commercial drone delivery service” in a metropolitan area in America, that of Dallas-Fort Worth.

Some experts however point out the limitations of this delivery method. “It takes a small army of drones to deliver 150 to 200 packages to a truck,” wrote Thomas Black, the editorial writer for the Bloomberg Opinionfor whom small planes remain relevant for urgent deliveries.

For Flytrex CEO Yariv Bash, food deliveries by electric drone not only emit less greenhouse gas than by car, but they are also safer. “Drones don’t get tired, write text messages while driving, or drink alcohol before driving, he declared. The service is just better. »

Delivery drone test in Frisco, Texas on August 31, 2022. (Photo: ANDY JACOBSOHN / AFP)

The obstacle of air regulations

In the United States, the issue of security is at the center of government debates for issuing activity permits. Although it only uses a drone that weighs less than 5 kg of polystyrene, Wing must obtain the same certifications as DHL or UPS that make deliveries by plane, lined Jonathan Bass, in subsidiary of Alphabet.

He noted that a committee created by the US Air Administration issued recommendations for drone-specific regulation: “I think it will unleash growth in the United States,” he explained.

This is already happening: in a report published in March, the consulting firm McKinsey pointed out that the number of drone deliveries increased from 6,000 in 2018 to almost half a million last year. But the future is uncertain, added the report. Regulations, levels of consumer acceptance and costs will determine whether the industry reaches its full potential. »

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