Autonomous drone technology has the potential to transform the way online shoppers receive their goods, and companies such as Amazon and Google-parent Alphabet are investing much time and money in trying to make it happen.
While some of the focus has been on regulators’ cautious approach to relaxing rules around drone deliveries over safety concerns, less attention has been given to those living in the neighborhoods where drone deliveries could one day become commonplace.
A report from the Wall Street Journal this week examined the attitudes of residents of a suburb in Canberra, Australia, where Alphabet’s “Wing” project is currently testing a full-fledged drone delivery service.
In a wake-up call for companies looking to launch drone deliveries on a large scale, it’s clear that there’s one overriding issue that needs to be tackled in order to win over residents, and that’s noise.
Wing, which has been developing its drone in Australia for the last four years, has so far made several thousand deliveries to residents in the small community of Bonython, Canberra. Those involved in the ongoing trial can order a range of everyday products via an app.
To make a delivery, the drone hovers above the ground and lowers the item into a customer’s yard. But the racket made by the machine’s 12 rotors and two propellers has been getting on some people’s nerves.
One resident told the Journal it sounded like “a chain saw gone ballistic” when she first heard a drone passing overhead, while others said they’ve stopped using their yard as much because of the intermittent noise.
The disruption caused by the drones even led some disgruntled locals to form the Bonython Against Drones group, which stands united against “noisy, intrusive, unnecessary drones.”
Of course, Wing is keen to hear the concerns of locals so that it can work to improve its service. Part of its efforts include research into how it can make its drone quieter.
On the plus side, of the 2,000 drone deliveries that have so far taken place around Bonython, no accidents have been reported, and only five emergency touchdowns — where problems have occurred during a flight — have taken place. Even better, many shoppers and participating businesses are happy with the service.
While Wing will continue testing its technology in Australia, the team is also heading to Helsinki, Finland, in 2019, where it plans to try out its technology in the kind of challenging winter conditions that don’t exist in Australia.