After almost a decade of development, Amazon is ready to move beyond the pilot stage in Prime Air drone deliveries.
Later this year, Amazon customers in Lockeford, Calif., will be among the first to receive Prime Air drone deliveries in the U.S. Drone deliveries will be fulfilled in less than one hour from the time a digital order is placed.
Once onboarded, customers in Lockeford will see Prime Air-eligible items on Amazon. They will place an order as they normally would and receive an estimated arrival time with a status tracker for their order. For these deliveries, the drone will fly to the designated delivery location, descend to the customer’s backyard, and hover at a safe height. It will then safely release the package and rise back up to altitude.
According to Amazon, it has created more than two dozen Prime Air delivery drone prototypes, including a model publicly unveiled at its 2019 re:MARS conference (Machine Learning, Automation, Robotics and Space) in Las Vegas. The company’s first test drone delivery in the U.S. took place at its March 2017 re:MARS conference, preceded by its first U.K. delivery by drone in December near Cambridge, England in December 2016.
According to Amazon, it has created a “sense-and-avoid” system that will enable operations without visual observers and allow its drone to operate at greater distances while safely and reliably avoiding other aircraft, people, pets, and obstacles. Amazon also says the electric drones are part of its Shipment Zero program intended to make all Amazon shipments net zero carbon by 2030.
The sense-and-avoid system is designed for two main scenarios: to be safe when in transit, and to be safe when approaching the ground. Using proprietary algorithms, Amazon says its new drones can identify a static object in its path, like a chimney, as well as detect moving objects on the horizon, like other aircraft.
If obstacles are identified, the drone is designed to automatically change course to safely avoid them. As the drone descends to deliver the package into a customer’s backyard, it ensures that there’s a small area around the delivery location that’s clear of any people, animals, or other obstacles.
Walmart, Kroger move ahead with drone delivery
Amazon has some significant competitors in the drone delivery space. Walmart is expanding its drone delivery service with operator DroneUp to 34 sites by the end of the year. The expansion will give Walmart the potential to reach 4 million U.S. households across six states — Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Texas, Utah and Virginia — and the ability to deliver more than 1 million packages by drone in a year.
Walmart currently offers drone deliveries from several stores near its headquarters in northwest Arkansas and in North Carolina. Most recently, the Kroger Co. began a drone-delivery pilot.
[Read More: Kroger enters Walmart, Amazon airspace with drone pilot]
Other notable retail drone delivery pilots have been launched by chains including Walgreens and CVS. Major technology platforms including Google and Uber, as well as global delivery providers such as UPS and FedEx, are also involved in piloting and developing on-demand drone delivery services.
Amazon, which initially received Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approval to use Prime Air drones to “safely and efficiently deliver packages to customers in August 2020, is working with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and local officials in Lockeford to obtain permission to conduct these deliveries and will continue collaborating with them into the future.
“It took years of inventing, testing, and improving to develop these breakthrough technologies, and we’re excited to use them to make customer deliveries,” Amazon said in a corporate blog post announcing the new Prime Air drone delivery program.