Drone delivery crash knocks out power for thousands

Google sister company Wing is making steady progress with testing its delivery drone in Australia, but a recent accident highlights some of the challenges such pilots face as they try to go mainstream.

The accident occurred when a Wing drone on its way to deliver a food order to a customer in Logan City, Brisbane, crashed into an 11,000-volt power line. The collision started a small fire as the drone baked on the wire before falling to the ground, disrupting electricity supplies to about 2,300 homes and businesses.

The crash itself didn’t cut off the supply, but operator Energex decided to shut it down so it could safely investigate the extent of damage caused by the accident, ABC reported. The outage lasted 45 minutes for most of those affected, although 300 customers near the accident site had to wait three hours for service to be restored.

A Wing spokesperson told the news channel that the drone had attempted a “precautionary landing”. [but] came to a stop on an overhead power line.”

The spokesperson added: “We immediately reported this to Energex, who were on site. Two hours later, during the pick-up process, there was a power outage in the area.”

The company, which is owned by Alphabet, apologized for the inconvenience caused and said it was conducting an assessment to find out how a drone en route to make a delivery ended up burning itself on a power line.

Last year, Wing said Logan City had “a strong claim to be the drone delivery capital of the world” for the sheer volume of deliveries — about 4,000 a week — its drones made in the area.

Wing’s delivery drone pilot projects partner with local businesses and let select customers use their smartphones to order items such as snacks and over-the-counter medicines. A drone then flies to the customer’s address and drops the order on a chain in their yard. With fewer emissions and faster delivery times than road deliveries, Wing believes drones are the best way to get smaller items into the hands of customers.

But clearly there are still a few creases to iron out before such services are ready for prime time.

This recent disaster, for example, will embarrass Wing, who must get communities involved if it is ever allowed to use its delivery drones more widely in urban areas. In recent years, some residents in Australian neighborhoods where Wing has tested its drones have been unhappy with the noise generated by the machines. In response, Wing engineers created a new version of its drone that flies quieter. Now it just needs to make one that also avoids power lines.

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