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An exclusive, first look at delivery drones coming to Christiansburg

(WDBJ)
Published: Jul. 31, 2019 at 10:39 PM EDT
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This week, we learned that the drone delivery company called Wing officially submitted plans to the Christiansburg Town Council to set up a headquarters in the community. Now, we’re getting a first look at what the drones will look like and do in the New River Valley.

Come this fall, the drones we will be seeing in the sky are the Hummingbird model.

“The way that we interface with the world around us would be changed, I believe, by the technology,” said Mark Blanks of the Virginia Tech Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership.

Blanks has been working closely with Wing for the past three years to make this a reality in the NRV. The company is a Google off-shoot.

“It’s perhaps, one of the safest aircraft ever built in my opinion and as far as drones go,” Blanks said.

According to Blanks, they have performed more than 80,000 flights on the Hummingbird all over the world in different conditions. They’ve determined that this small, 10 pound foam aircraft will be able to deliver packages you order from an application on your smartphone.

“It’s a whole new way to interact with commerce and with goods,” Blanks said. “Never before have we been able to place an order and receive it in minutes.”

Each part of the aircraft, including the foam, has been designed for a reason. Blanks said Styrofoam is relatively strong, lightweight and low-cost to make the drone efficient.

Unlike many delivery drones that are out on the market, this one does not land on the ground. Instead it hovers about 20 feet above the ground, lowers your package, unhooks and then takes off to make it even safer.

“This hook is designed to engage easily on to a package, but also not re-hook back on to it,” Blanks said. “The aircraft never actually lands, it never comes close to you, it stays up there higher.”

Blanks said more recently they ran a test of a commute that would normally take 17 minutes by car, but with the Hummingbird at about 60-70 miles per hour, it could get to its destination in 80 to 90 seconds.

The MAAP and Wing are still scoping out what they plan to deliver, but it has to be small enough to weigh only 3.3 pounds.

“We want to make sure they are things that will be useful to the community and anything that could fit in a box and provide a real-time delivery,” Blanks said. “We’ll see how this grows, but overall I think we’re going to find there’s a great value that’s brought to the community with it.”

As for how fast the company will grow, Blanks said that will be determined by a number of factors including things like community reception and FAA approvals.

“I think it will start off at a reasonably small scale while they understand the community feedback and engage very carefully with the public,” Blanks said. “All of that has come together with a great community that’s very diverse and representative of a lot of communities around the country. It makes us a hot spot for the ability to test, give feedback and prove that drone delivery concept as a whole.”

If you’re interested in learning more about these delivery drones, Wing plans to have a booth set up near Cabo Fish Taco this weekend during Blacksburg’s Steppin’ Out Festival. Staff from both the MAAP and Wing will be on hand to answer any questions and concerns you might have.

To provide feedback or ask questions, you are encouraged to reach out to both companies online:

maap.ictas.vt.edu/Contact.html”> https://maap.ictas.vt.edu/Contact.html.