Jun 13, 2022 - Economy & Business

Amazon's drone delivery service is finally starting

Image of Amazon Prime Air's hexagon-shaped delivery drone.
Amazon Prime Air's hexagon-shaped delivery drone, launching later this year. Photo courtesy Amazon

Nearly a decade after Amazon began working on drone delivery, customers living in one small California community will soon be able to take advantage of the 30-minute air delivery service.

Why it matters: Drones bearing packages could soon be as ubiquitous as the Amazon van or UPS truck rumbling through your neighborhood, helping to reduce roadway congestion and lessen tailpipe emissions.

  • Yes, but: Widespread deployment won’t happen until the Federal Aviation Administration finalizes drone flight rules — a process that could take another year or two.

Driving the news: Amazon said Monday it will launch its Prime Air drone delivery service later this year for about 3,000 customers in rural Lockeford, California, near Sacramento.

  • To support the service, the company is building a dedicated drone fulfillment facility in San Joaquin County.
  • The news comes about a month after rival Walmart said its DroneUp delivery network will expand to 34 sites in six states by the end of the year.

How it works: Amazon will notify Lockeford customers that they have the option to receive free drone delivery on thousands of everyday items.

  • If they're interested, an Amazon representative will visit their home to scope out a mutually agreed-upon delivery location, and provide them with a delivery marker that will give the drone a target.
  • Customers can then place orders for Prime Air-eligible items as they normally would and track their orders in real time.
  • The drone will fly to the designated delivery location, descend to the customer’s yard, and hover safely about 6 feet off the ground. It will then release the package, rise back up to altitude and return to base.
  • Camera sensors will ensure that there are no pets, people or objects that would interfere with the delivery. If the drone senses an obstacle, Amazon will try to reschedule the delivery.

Amazon's drones are different from rival offerings, the company says, because they have a sophisticated "sense-and-avoid system" that enables them to operate at greater distances while navigating around other aircraft and hazards like chimneys or trees.

  • And unlike other drone companies — which use tethers or parachutes to lower packages to the ground — Amazon's drones release them from a height of about 6 feet using specialized packaging to protect contents.

Where it stands: For now, Amazon, like other drone companies, must have trained observers to keep visual tabs on its drones for safety.

  • The FAA is currently finalizing rules that would allow companies to fly drones "beyond the visual line of sight," which would enable more widespread deployment.
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