Google Drone Delivery

Last Friday, a Wing drone hovered at a height of about 23 feet before lowering a package to the ground by tether in Christiansburg.

On-demand services help consumers cross items off their to-do lists with less time and effort.

Unmanned aerial vehicles are the next wave of change and the New River Valley is the testing ground for the first commercial drone deliveries. Last Friday, Wing — a subsidiary of Google parent company Alphabet — partnered with businesses to bring products to homes in Christiansburg.

According to The Associated Press and WSLS-TV in Roanoke, the three orders were a vest from Dick’s Sporting Goods fulfilled by FedEx, cold and cough medicine from Walgreens and sweets from Sugar Magnolia in Blacksburg. It’s another chapter in an ongoing technology debate: What are the limits of convenience?

A video on Wing’s YouTube channel shows a family on their patio, ordering health products on a smartphone. The screen shifts to an employee boxing up items like Neosporin, in a cardboard container shaped like a handbag. A pulley-like hook lifts the parcel to the drone and locks it in place.

That’s the good side. What about the bad?

Last month, a small drone carrying illicit materials was found near the Buckingham Correctional Center in Dillwyn. The Times-Dispatch reported the Virginia Department of Corrections (VDOC) found a package of SIM cards, a cellphone and suspected drugs. VDOC cited 32 reports of drones or suspected drones flying near or over prisons from Dec. 31, 2017, to Sept. 4 of this year.

As unmanned aircrafts lift common household items to our doors, government must lift its efforts to make sure laws keep pace. The FAA already has a complex web of “Frequently Asked Questions” to distinguish between “Flying for Work or Business” and “Flying for Fun or Recreation.”

We don’t doubt Wing’s claims of rigorously testing its system more than 80,000 times. We also recognize the thrill of a surprise birthday card and box of chocolates from a local business. But as the frequency of drone use ticks upward, how can the average Virginian look up and tell the difference between 10 Walgreens orders and a bag of contraband? That’s one of the big challenges ahead.

Chris Gentilviso

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