A decade ago, small flying drones that could deliver your fresh groceries or latest shopping at the click of a button sounded more like a sci-fi fever dream than reality. But in the year 2021, not only is the future here — it’s in a city near you.
Ask anyone in Christiansburg, and they’ll tell you the future is pretty good. As the first drone delivery pilot program in America has proceeded, potential worries about noise, safety, and privacy have faded in the face of drone delivery’s benefits.
For more than a year, Wing-operated drones have delivered goods to the residences of the 22,000-person town. And when surveyed by neighboring Virginia Tech, nearly 90% of residents supported drone delivery.
Unlike earlier national and international surveys that showed theoretical support for drone delivery hovering at 51%, support for drones in Christiansburg after more than a year of service was at 90%.
Even concerns about noise dissipated in light of their benefits, with three quarters of respondents who initially mentioned noise nevertheless feeling positively about drone delivery.
Not surprisingly, the pandemic made Christiansburg residents even more appreciative of drone delivery. When respondents were asked how the COVID-19 pandemic had changed their perceptions of delivery drones, 58% said their opinion of drone delivery improved.
Virginia Tech researchers also found that delivery drones can help both families — saving them anywhere from dozens to hundreds of hours per year — and local businesses, boosting retail between 50% and 165% and restaurant sales anywhere between 120% and 250%.
Saving families trips to the store means drone deliveries also cut down on traffic and environmental impacts. Research suggests swapping car rides for drone deliveries could cut up to 294 million miles of road travel and 114,000 tons of carbon dioxide in a city each year.
The Christiansburg example is especially important because it shows that once people have experienced drone delivery firsthand, they see the pros as far outweighing the cons.
It’s time to expand this technology to communities beyond Christiansburg, so families across the U.S. can gain access to food, medicine, and other essentials with greater speed and convenience.
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) can help Americans enjoy the benefits of drones by updating outdated restrictions that limit their expansion and operation. The right regulatory environment and maturing drone technology could unleash drone package delivery to help countless more families over the next decade.
Innovation works best when allowed to grow and serve communities who welcome it. Any obstacles from the FAA would only delay and obstruct deployment of drone deliveries to those who need it. We no longer have to wonder what public response to delivery drones will look like; Christiansburg has shown it.
And blind techno-optimism doesn’t fly. But our friends in Christiansburg who have seen and embraced drone deliveries are telling us there’s clear skies ahead for drones.
Kovacevich is CEO and Founder of the Chamber of Progress (progresschamber.org), a new center-left tech industry policy coalition promoting technology’s progressive future.