Delivery drones, driverless cars: Push to make Mitchell a tech hub
Mitchell traders want to leverage the impending launch of a household drone delivery service in the suburb to position the precinct as a testing ground for new technology.
Tech company Wing is establishing a full-time base for its drone service in the north Canberra suburb, with plans to start delivering to homes and businesses in nearby Gungahlin, Palmerston, Harrison, Crace and Franklin early next year.
Mitchell Traders' Association secretary Julian Kusa said a number of local businesses had expressed interest in having their products delivered by Wing's drones, including a brewery, clothing store, toy manufacturer and gaming outlet.
Mr Kusa said the arrival of the innovative service – which Wing is promoting as world-leading – presented an opportunity to reposition the industrial suburb as the capital's innovation hub.
"Mitchell is very small, compact and strategically located – so it would be perfect as a trial site for, say, autonomous vehicles and other new technologies," Mr Kusa said.
"So many suburbs are looking for that gritty and edgy feel, but we're really proud that we have that already. We have all sorts of businesses in Mitchell and I think we can all co-exist. We want businesses to know that Mitchell is here, and its open for businesses."
News of Wing's expansion into Canberra's north sparked a flurry of debate on Friday, as politicians and residents offered mixed views on delivery drones in the capital.
ACT Liberals leader Alistair Coe told radio station 2CC that there was "huge potential" for delivery drones in residential areas.
"There is still a lot of work that needs to be done … but I think there is a future for drone deliveries," Mr Coe said. "Just imagine you've got a tradesperson around at the house and they need to pop over to the store to get part X or part Y. Imagine if it [the part] could get delivered to your house while the plumber is there, working on your leaking tap. There is amazing potential for this."
Tim Hollo, the Greens candidate for the federal seat of Canberra, criticised Wing's announcement, which came less than a week after the ACT Assembly voted to launch an inquiry into household delivery drones amid community concerns about the company's trial in Bonython.
"Canberrans are mighty sick of private companies coming in and steamrolling over community concerns," Mr Hollo said. "This is part of a growing anti-democratic trend of 'disruptive' corporations deliberately setting up shop before governments have a chance to set the rules, making it much harder to regulate them after the fact."
Wing chief executive James Ryan Burgess on Friday attempted to allay concerns about drone noise, saying the company was developing a quieter, "more pleasant" aircraft model ahead of its Mitchell launch, which is subject to Civil Aviation Safety Authority approval.
Mr Burgess told ABC radio that opposition to the Bonython trial had been limited to a "small, highly organised" group of residents – a claim disputed by one talkback caller, who declared opposition was widespread in the Tuggeranong suburb.
Chief Minister Andrew Barr, also speaking on ABC radio, said the trial had presented a "number of issues that needed to be addressed", particularly around regulation.
Mr Barr said the ACT government had no power to regulate airspace, but could impose restrictions on noise levels.
"But any changes would need to be cognisant of flow-on effects across the entire community," Mr Barr said. "If there is a view that noisy activities should be further restricted then people will not be able to mow their lawns outside certain hours, because noise is as irritating to neighbours as a drone engine can be."
Dan Jervis-Bardy is a Canberra Times reporter.
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