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Delivery drone crashes into power lines, causes outage

Google-owned Wing said it was a 'precautionary controlled landing' – right into 11,000 volts

A delivery drone operated by Alphabet subsidiary Wing crashed into power lines in the Australian town of Browns Plains yesterday, knocking out power for more than 2,000 customers.

The drone, which was carrying an unknown payload, made what Wing described to Australian media as a "precautionary controlled landing" that led it to "[come] to rest on an overhead power line." 

The crew who responded to the incident, Energex spokesman Danny Donald told The Age, they didn't even have to get the drone down off the lines. "It landed on top of 11,000 volts and whilst it didn't take out power, there was voltage tracking across the drone and the drone caught fire and fell to the ground," Donald said. "So we didn't actually have to get the drone off, as such." 

Energex, the electricity company responsible for power in the region, said that there was no permanent damage to the network, and so Wing wouldn't be responsible for any repairs. 

While 2,000 locals lost power for around 45 minutes, an additional 300 were left in the dark for three hours so Energex workers could be sure there was no damage to the lines, Donald said. 

Another Wing ding

Wing began life as a Google X project before being spun out into its own subsidiary earlier in the decade. It now operates in Australia, Finland and the United States, where trials have been run in Virginia and the Dallas-Fort Worth metro area in Texas. 

The Browns Plains outage is hardly the first trouble that Wing has had, especially in Australia, where residents of Canberra suburb Bonython ran the project out of town over complaints that Wing's drones were loud enough to be a public nuisance

Wing continued to operate in Canberra after leaving Bonython, but had to pull out of another suburb after ravens were spotted attacking a Wing drone during COVID-19 lockdowns. 

While Wing's drones don't appear to have ever caused another power outage, hobby drones have been responsible for similar occurrences – like in 2017 when a quadcopter took out power in Google's home town of Mountain View, California, for close to three hours after crashing into a power line and burning to a crisp. 

In that instance a lot more damage occurred, with city officials saying the crash necessitated tens of thousands of dollars in repairs. 

It's those sorts of incidents that Energex seems more concerned about, as Donald said he'd never seen a commercial drone accident like the Browns Plains one. What he has seen, he said, were a lot of power line-related accidents over the years involving toys. 

"Fifteen years ago, we asked people to be careful if they were giving their children kites for Christmas and where they were flying them. Now we're asking parents to be very careful with where their kids fly their drones," Donald said. ®

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