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A drone making deliveries or a drone stealing from these homes?

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Look to the Sky

Could traffic congestion on the ground be reduced by putting more of it into the air? Delivery drone services like Wing, a unit of Alphabet in Mountain View, Calif., offer a glimpse of what drone-normal cities might look like. Operating in Helsinki, the Australian cities of Logan and Canberra, and Christiansburg, Va., Wing has made more than 200,000 drone deliveries—including more than 1,000 in a single day. The 10-pound aircraft carry packages of three pounds or less, including items like sandwiches and coffee, lowering goods to the ground on a 23-foot cord. Through a partnership with Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc., Wing plans to begin delivering pharmacy items Thursday to homes in the Dallas area.

Urban centers with tall buildings and little open space for landings pose challenges for drones. But major retailers in the U.S. are already preparing, writing drone-usage rights for rooftops and other areas into new leases, says Kris Bjorson, Chicago-based international director of the industrial group at real-estate firm Jones Lang Lasalle. What happens once drones get to the top of a skyscraper is another problem. “Tops of buildings in New York are a great place to land the drone, but you still have to get the stuff down through those buildings,” says Mr. DiStefano of Urban Footprint. 

Prime Air, a service in development at Amazon, is planning drone deliveries in cities across the U.S., with the goal of getting goods to doorsteps within 30 minutes of an order. Amazon in 2020 cleared a key approval hurdle with the Federal Aviation Administration for the rollout of its drone delivery service but hasn’t announced a start date. A company spokesman says Amazon is still working on making the drones ready to operate at scale.

In recent years, Amazon has obtained patents for what would be much more revolutionary delivery technologies than drones, should they become feasible. One is an “airborne fulfillment center,” a sort of blimp warehouse where drones fly back and forth to pick up packages to deliver below.

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