CHRISTIANSBURG — Susie Sensmeier received the first commercial drone delivery in the U.S. and said it wouldn’t be her last, either.
Sensmeier, 81, and her husband Paul watched a FedEx package deliver a winter vest to their home at The Villas in Peppers Ferry as part of Wing Aviation's grand opening Friday afternoon.
The drone hovered 23 feet above the ground and dispensed the package from a tether onto the ground. The autonomous aircraft travels to its destination at 65 mph and is quieter than a box fan. Company officials have touted a 10 minute or less delivery time.
Sensmeier said they were approached to be the first customers after visiting a recent demonstration hosted by the Google sister company. Sensmeier said the service is helpful to senior citizens like her and her husband.
“He [Paul] broke his leg this summer and I wish they would’ve had it then,” she said.
Sensmeier said she will use the service for items from Walgreens the most, because “when you’re 80, that’s where you end up most of the time.” She said she’d like to see the service expand to include restaurants and one of her and her husband’s favorite stores, Barnes and Noble.
Wing delivers various items weighing three pounds or less from Walgreens, FedEx and local Blacksburg shop Sugar Magnolia. FedEx will determine which packages it can send to Wing to be drone delivered.
The items offered will be stored at Wing's home base known as the “Nest” on Welcome Street near Lowe's. Guests were also offered a tour of the facility that consists of offices made from converted shipping containers sitting parallel to the area where the drones land and take off.
Residents within the delivery zone can download the app and have a variety of good dropped off at their home between 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Customers 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.
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 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.
He said the company chose Christiansburg because of its ties with Virginia Tech and its drone division, Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership.
The company is conducting the trial through a federal drone integration program that lasts through the fall of 2020, but he said there is no timetable for how long the company stays in the area.
Wing officials promoted what they believe will be the economic impact the delivery service could have in the area. A news release from the company said "in a mature market, drones could increase sales in the metropolitan area by up to 27.4% per year for participating businesses."
Additionally, a high usage rate could yield the following numbers by year five, according to Wing:
- 3,385 cars off the road each year, saving 38.9 million miles per year in avoided traffic.
- 44.6 hours saved per customer per year in avoided travel/waiting.
- 40.2 tons of CO2 saved each year (equivalent to 1849 oak trees).
- $46.6 million in time savings to customers per year.
Wing has more information, including job openings, on its website www.wing.com/va.