Back in the day, your average American would probably see a drone flying and then immediately wonder if it’s spying on them or if it’s going to crash on them. But public support for drone delivery has dramatically changed.
These days, nearly 9 in 10 people are eager for delivery drones to help run errands for them — at least according to the results of one new survey conducted by Virginia Tech researchers. In contrast, previous surveys conducted in the U.S. found public support for drone delivery to be far lower. A November 2019 Hawthorn Group survey found that 51% of Americans said they would support neighborhood deliveries, but 49% felt they were too dangerous. And a June 2020 study from the Consumer Technology Association found that only 49% of consumers rate autonomous delivery technologies (like drones) as somewhat or very favorable.
More specifically, more than half of respondents said they “like drone delivery a great deal”, as opposed to the 26^ who said they like drone delivery “a moderate amount” and the 8% who “like it a little.”
Only 7% reported negative sentiment across three categories of dislike (“dislike a great deal”; “dislike a moderate amount”; and “dislike a little”).
The survey is of note in that it only talked to residents of Christiansburg, Virginia, which is the site of the first service in the U.S. to deliver goods directly to residences on demand via drone-delivery company Wing. It suggests that people might fear an unfamiliar technology, but — as soon as it’s familiar — there’s little reason to fear it, in most cases.
Related read: 6 things to know about Wing delivery drones
There’s another reason at play as to why this survey delivered results that suggest Americans more favorably view drone delivery than they used to: coronavirus. Perhaps call it an unintentional, positive outcome of the pandemic, but as people were stuck in their homes, and coronavirus made it for some to conduct basic errands like getting prescription refills or just delivering a cup of coffee, delivery drones proved themselves up to the task.
“In this time of crisis and social distancing, drones provide the ideal solution to bolster delivery capacity while keeping citizens safe at home,” said Flytrex CEO Yariv Bash in a 2020 interview with The Drone Girl.
In fact, 58% of respondents in the Virginia Tech study reported that the COVID-19 pandemic had improved their opinion about drone delivery. Wing said it saw a 5x surge in demand from customers wanting to get items delivered by drone since coronavirus lockdowns began.
Wing, which is a sibling company of Google, launched its drone delivery service in Virginia in October 2019. Of note: Wing also helped fund this latest Virginia Tech survey.
Wing’s drone deliveries originate at a central operations site which it calls a Nest, which is located in an industrial-commercial section of Christiansburg. From there, its drones can serve residents who live within a three-mile radius of the Nest. Wing suggests that this model is likely to be more realistic than models tested by other companies where drones fly between two fixed points, (for example, between different facilities within a single medical campus). Wing’s test also send drones directly over buildings and homes in what are otherwise quiet residential areas. Wing is also running tests in Australia.
Still, Wing’s tests are small, saying that in 2020 it saw daily order volumes average 57 orders per week (that’s about 8 per day). Orders peaked at a high of 97 orders per day.
But while its tests are still relatively small, this latest bout of news about public support for drones could change that. There are a number of barriers to making drone delivery widespread, including UTM (that’s air traffic control for drones) and Remote ID. But changing public opinion is a big one. And by the looks of it, everyone who experiences drone delivery wants more of it.