Cough medicine, snacks, baking ingredients: Kelly Passek has shopping delivered weekly to her yard in Christiansburg, Virginia — by a drone.
The flying vehicle comes with little fuss, hovering briefly over her yard and letting down its package. “It’s very fast — even the noise you hear is no more than 30 seconds,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
The service is a pilot project by Google parent Alphabet Inc’s drone delivery business Wing, which is operating similar projects in Finland and Australia.
Photo: Bloomberg 照片：彭博社
In Christiansburg, residents who sign up can get drone delivery from a locally owned business, a national pharmacy and FedEx.
As with other autonomous delivery services, both airborne and terrestrial, Wing has seen a major uptick in interest amid the coronavirus pandemic, as emergency regulations keep people at home and complicate many of the simplest tasks.
Photo: EPA-EFE 照片：歐新社
“For a while, they (Wing) were the only one with toilet paper. It turned from being a novelty to being a service that’s used because it’s necessary,” said Passek, whose first drone delivery was in October.
The pandemic-era rise in focus on autonomous delivery is also prompting local officials and others to think about how these services use public space in their cities.
“Cities aren’t necessarily built for robots roaming around,” said Christopher Bruno, economic development director with Fairfax City, Virginia, which recently helped start a robot delivery service. “That’s something we’re monitoring.”
Photo: AFP 照片：法新社
Wing was formed in 2012, and last year it became the first drone company to be approved as an air carrier by the federal government.
Within its 4.8km-radius Christiansburg delivery area, residents can sign up for the service and get deliveries within about 10 minutes.
They also brought in more local businesses, providing an economic lifeline for some: about a quarter of sales at a local cafe now come from drone delivery, while a coffee shop is selling twice as much cold brew as pre-pandemic.
Globally, the company saw demand increase 350 percent month over month in signups for service from February to April.
That prospect of economic stimulus has been a draw for some pandemic-hit cities.
About 402km northeast of Christiansburg, Fairfax City officials struck an agreement with an autonomous delivery service of an entirely different kind: small, cube-shaped robots that slowly trundle down sidewalks and across streets.
Bruno had heard about delivery robots on the campus of a nearby university, operated by a company called Starship Technologies.
Eventually, a tie-up was born: Starship would operate a fleet of delivery robots, while the city provided a US$10,000 grant so that local businesses would not initially have to pay commission.
The company, which operates in five countries, has gained another 180,000 customers this year.
1. Give the names of autonomous delivery carriers using both airborne and terrestrial vehicles to deliver goods.
2. Although having existed for a few years already, why is autonomous delivery in such high demand at present?
3. What are the advantages and limitations of autonomous delivery? What are some of the potential problems with the technology that concern government officials?
4. In your opinion, could autonomous delivery work in Taiwan?
(Lin Lee-kai, Taipei Times)
1. drone n. 無人機 (wu2 ren2 ji2)
2. autonomous delivery phr. 自動投遞 (zi4 dong4 tou2 di4)
3. airborne adj. 空運的 (kong1 yun4 de5)
4. terrestrial adj. 陸地的 (lu4 di4 de5)
5. uptick n. 生意興旺 (sheng1 yi4 xing1 wang4)
6. novelty n. 新奇的事物 (xin1 qi2 de5 shi4 wu4)
7. robot n. 機器人 (ji1 qi4 ren2)
8. economic stimulus phr. 振興經濟 (zhen4 xing1 jing1 ji4)
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