Amazon Reveals Details on Drone Deliveries

After years of development, the online retail giant announces the timing and location surrounding the launch of its Part 135 drone delivery service.

After nearly a decade of planning and development, Amazon (NYSE: AMZN) has announced when and where it plans to launch its drone delivery service. 

Amazon Prime Air drone deliveries will launch in Lockeford, California, about 40 miles from Stockton, “later this year.”

Local customers will have the ability to choose for delivery from about a thousand small household, tech, and personal items weighing less than five pounds. Amazon drones—what the FAA calls unmanned aircraft systems (UAS)—will fly shoebox-sized packages and drop them in customers’ “backyards…in less than an hour,” the company said.

The emergence of deliveries via battery-powered drones is seen by some as part of an overall solution to reducing carbon emissions by vehicles that burn fossil fuels.

“We’ve worked closely with the FAA and other regulators throughout,” the company said in a news release Monday. “Prime Air is one of only three drone-delivery companies that has gone through the rigorous process to earn an FAA [Part 135]  air carrier certificate, which will be required to operate drones using these advanced capabilities.”

The other two companies are UPS Flight Forward (NYSE: UPS) and Wing Aviation LLC, which is owned by the parent company of Google (NASDAQ: GOOGL).

How It’s Supposed to Work

Amazon also offered a few specifics about how the process would work. “Once onboarded,” the news release said, “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.”

Nearly a Decade of Development

In 2013, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos announced plans to offer drone deliveries within the next five years. During the following nine years, the company built and flight tested more than two dozen prototypes, including a hexagon-shaped iteration that Amazon shared on YouTube in 2019.

Amazon said it has developed a “sense-and-avoid system” for its drone aircraft to enable flight operations beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS). The system relies on software algorithms that “use a diverse suite of technologies for object detection.”

“Our drone can identify a static object in its path, like a chimney,” Amazon said. “It can also detect moving objects on the horizon, like other aircraft.”

“If obstacles are identified, our drone will automatically change course to safely avoid them,” the release said. “As our drone descends to deliver the package into a customer’s backyard, the drone ensures that there’s a small area around the delivery location that’s clear of any people, animals, or other obstacles.”

For now, drone delivery to places without backyards, such as apartment buildings, will not be possible, an Amazon spokesperson Av Zammit said via email. “At the moment, customers need access to a clear yard in their property for Prime Air deliveries,” Amazon told FLYING.


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