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If ever there was an idea whose time has come, it is delivery by drone.
Wing, a drone delivery company owned by Google parent company Alphabet, is conducting tests of its technology and services in several markets around the world, with products ranging from first aid kits to freshly baked cupcakes — because you never know when or where a cupcake emergency can arise.
Last weekend in Christiansburg, Virginia, the four-year-old roasting and retail company Brugh Coffee became the first coffee provider to send a cup of joe into the wild blue yonder by way of a Wing drone.
That first cup of coffee, with a pastry as its copilot, took to the skies over Christiansburg on April 4. Of the many that have flown since then, none have crashed or spilled so far, according to Brugh Coffee Co-Founder Luke Brugh.
“Our first day was a big success,” Brugh told DCN. “We probably sold about 50% more on some of our products than we normally do in our storefront.”
The coffee company and the drone company have been in touch since the latter launched in Christiansburg last year. Brugh catered Wing’s launch events, and has since then made regulars of multiple Wing staffers in its Christiansburg cafe.
“They frequently ask customers what they would like delivered by drone, and coffee and baked goods have consistently been at the top of the list,” said Brugh. “It took a couple of months from the first conversation until the actual launch. So, it’s been a process like these things normally are.”
Brugh and Wing have been collaborating to determine which products are fit to fly. Initial offerings via drone will be limited to a few baked goods, whole beans and cold brew, and Brugh said the selection will grow from there.
“Starting with a small menu is intentional since we’re the first coffee shop or roaster in the USA to do drone delivery, so this is completely new territory,” said Brugh. “It’s been great because we’re both focused on the customer experience.”
To comply with CDC recommendations and local health guidelines, the Brugh cafe is also offering curbside pickup. For that model, the company is employing the Cloosiv app. And while businesses everywhere are experimenting with new delivery services, Brugh has taken that idea to a literally higher level.
“I believe drone delivery holds real promise for new opportunities,” said Brugh. “Right now it is a great way for people to practice social distancing while still getting coffee and baked goods. I believe even after we’re through this that people will still continue to use it, because they want to, and it’s of use to them.”
Wing’s all-electric drone is powered by 12 vertical rotors for hovering and two horizontal propellers for cruising. After a customer submits an order via Wing’s mobile app, a parcel is packed at Wing’s fulfillment facility, which now stocks Brugh coffee products and pastries from its partner bakery. The drone flies out from there and then returns, traveling as far as six miles within six minutes.
Flights are autonomous, although a human monitors all systems to watch for problems. Each drone can carry a package up to 3.3 pounds while cruising to a height of a couple hundred feet and down to a roughly 23-foot hover height at dropoff points. The drones are designed to fly through wind and light rain, although in initial test locations in Australia, Finland and Virginia, Wing is not yet braving bad weather.
“Right now, we’re focused on the trial in Christiansburg, but we’d love to bring our service to many more homes around the world,” Wing Marketing and Communications Associate Jacob Demmitt told Daily Coffee News. “Drone delivery can reduce road congestion, lower emissions and make people safer by removing cars from the road. In crises such as this time, our technology can provide access to critical medication, food and other necessities. It can help limit human-to-human contact, and support local businesses that are suffering from reduced foot traffic and sales.”
Howard Bryman is the associate editor of Daily Coffee News by Roast Magazine. He is based in Portland, Oregon.