Energex spokesman Danny Donald told The Age that the drone “landed on top of an overhead wire carrying 11,000 volts of electricity, and while there was no power outage, the drone caught fire and fell to the ground.” To rule out subsequent safety hazards, the company must power down for maintenance.
A Wing spokesperson told the publication the drone “made a precautionary controlled landing yesterday…and stopped on an overhead power line”. The company said it subsequently reported the incident to Energex. “Two hours later, during the recovery process, there was a power outage in the area,” the spokesman said. “We are sorry for any inconvenience caused. We are currently reviewing yesterday’s incident.”
“This is the first time I’ve seen this happen. It could just be a malfunction of the equipment, or it could be human error,” Donald said. The grid itself was not damaged, he added, and the outage was due to Energex’s quick response to the problem. “The meal was still hot in the drone’s delivery box when the crew arrived.”
“15 years ago, we asked people to be careful when flying kites for their children at Christmas and where it would be better to fly them,” an Energex spokesperson said. “Now we’re asking parents to be very careful about where their kids put drones.”
Today, the drones aren’t being flown by children, but are being developed by Wing, a subsidiary of Google’s parent company Alphabet. Wing’s drones, which come in both fixed-wing and helicopter forms, fly autonomously, delivering food and beverages on short journeys, often less than 10 minutes. The company currently operates in three countries – the US, Finland and Australia – but has been particularly successful in suburban Australia.
As of August last year, Wing delivered about 100,000 customers in Brisbane, where the crash occurred, and had completed about 200,000 deliveries as of March this year. Wing said that drone delivery is suitable for suburban areas, because these areas have a large number of customers, easy flying conditions, and the service of courier companies is not as good as in cities.
While drone deliveries have been hyped over the past decade, they have failed to scale as companies like Amazon initially promised. Instead, success has been found in more targeted applications; such as Zipline, which transports small but high-value items like blood and medicines in rural areas.