The drone delivery business will get more competitive, in some Texas suburbs at least, with plans by Irish startup Manna to begin test flights in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
It isn't yet clear exactly when operations will begin, since the company first needs approval from the US Federal Aviation Administration, Manna said on Thursday. Once it gets that, the company will be able to deliver meals, drinks and small packages to 10,000 people living near the metro area, it said. The plan involves a partnership with real estate developer Hillwood and covers a delivery area of 27,000 acres.
"We'll begin with a single hub with less than 10 drones and grow our footprint as necessary," said Manna Chief Executive Bobby Healy. "This will be a smaller, less advanced version of our European operation, but we will show that our technology, vehicles and operations are safe and fundamentally compatible with US regulations."
The expansion plan will bring new aerial delivery options to the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Wing, a division of Google parent company Alphabet, operates drone deliveries in Little Elm and Frisco, Texas. An Israel-based competitor, Flytrex, operates nearby in Granbury. Amazon, whose Prime Air service kicked off the drone delivery idea, picked College Station, farther to the south, for its Texas trials.
Drone delivery service remains unusual, but expect it to become less so as companies vie for the best way to whisk medicine, snacks, groceries and power tools over our heads. Drone deliveries promise to be faster than deliveries made by trucks, and to emit less carbon dioxide. They also promise not to worsen traffic congestion. For the technology to succeed broadly, though, companies have to overcome issues with engineering, cost, regulatory approval, safety, privacy and noise pollution.
Manna and other drone delivery companies, backed by some academic studies, tout the lower carbon emissions of drone deliveries. In one video recounting 500 drone deliveries at Manna's first location in Balbriggan, Ireland, it estimates that delivering the packages by car would've emitted 321kg of carbon dioxide. The battery-powered drones release none themselves, though the power grid needed to charge drones typically isn't fully clean power.
Other states with drone delivery tests include California, Virginia, Ohio, Georgia, Utah, North Carolina and Arkansas.
Another competitor, Zipline, unveiled a new drone design on Wednesday that tackles the noise issue by keeping the drone 330 feet above the ground. The drones use a cable to lower packages that are inside a module called a droid, whose propellers can steer it to a precise landing spot.
Manna also said Thursday that Coca-Cola has invested in the company. It's now raised $40 million total.