Prescription drone delivery takes off at Amazon

Dan Berthiaume
Senior Editor, Technology
Amazon drone with prescription medication.
Amazon has begun delivering prescriptions via drone.

Amazon is the latest retailer to provide drone-based delivery of prescription medications.

Amazon Pharmacy customers in College Station, Texas can now get their prescription medications dropped outside their door via Amazon’s drone delivery service within 60 minutes of placing their order, at no additional cost. Eligible Amazon Pharmacy customers can select “free drone delivery in less than 60 minutes” at checkout.

A pharmacist will then ensure that medications are loaded and transported to a customer’s home within the next hour. College Station residents selecting drone delivery will have access to more than 500 medications that treat common conditions, including flu, asthma and pneumonia.

Amazon began offering customers in College Station, Texas – home of Texas A&M University – the opportunity to receive Prime Air drone deliveries, in less than one hour from the time a digital order is placed. In 2022. Retailers including CVS and Walmart, as well as pharmacy benefits manager Magellan Rx Management, also offer drone-based delivery of prescription medications.

How Amazon drone delivery works

Amazon’s drones fly at an altitude of roughly 130 to 400 feet in an effort to encounter minimal obstacles. The drone’s built-in sense-and-avoid technology uses sensors and cameras to navigate around people, pets and power lines.

Cameras on the drone feed into a neural network trained to identify objects. On arrival at the customer’s home, the drone slowly lowers itself above a delivery marker. Computer vision will detect any structures or objects protruding from the ground—including people and animals—and check if they are interfering with the descent path.

When the delivery zone is clear, the drone releases the package, rises back up to altitude, and returns to the delivery center. Customers pick up packages without any interaction with the drone.

Amazon says 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.

In addition, Amazon has a Federal Aviation Administration air carrier certificate required to operate drones with advanced capabilities. According to Amazon, its drones have safely delivered hundreds of household items in College Station since December 2022.

“We’re taught from the first days of medical school that there is a golden window that matters in clinical medicine,” said Dr. Vin Gupta, chief medical officer of Amazon Pharmacy. “That’s the time between when a patient feels unwell and when they’re able to get treatment. We’re working hard at Amazon to dramatically narrow the golden window from diagnosis to treatment, and drone delivery marks a significant step forward. Whether it’s an infectious disease or respiratory illness, early intervention can be critical to improving patient outcomes.”

“Our drones fly over traffic, eliminating the excess time a customer’s package might spend in transit on the road,” said Calsee Hendrickson, director of product and program management at Prime Air. “That’s the beauty of drone delivery, and medications were the first thing our customers said they also want delivered quickly via drone. Speed and convenience top the wish list for health purchases.”

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