June 14, 2022
Amazon has announced a pilot of its drone delivery service, Prime Air, is set to take place in Lockeford, California, subject to regulatory approval.
The company is currently in talks with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to secure permission for the exercise, which is planned to get underway before the end of the year.
And unlike the delivery program recently announced by Walmart, the drones used will not operate on a “line of sight” basis – where they must remain visible to observers – but instead use what Amazon refers to as a “sophisticated and industry-leading sense-and-avoid system” that will allow them “to operate at greater distances while safely and reliably avoiding other aircraft, people, pets, and obstacles.”
Lockeford is a small town of around 3,500 people, 35 miles southeast of Sacramento, and residents will be invited to sign up for the free Prime Air program, which will aim to deliver thousands of everyday items within an hour. According to Amazon, their feedback will help shape the service as the e-commerce giant scales it to “meet the needs of customers everywhere.”
Amazon is promising a seamless user experience: “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.”
The tech behind the drones has required years of research and testing to reach the stage where they can operate safely in transit and when approaching the ground.
En route, Amazon’s algorithms use a diverse suite of technologies to detect and avoid both static objects, such as chimneys, and moving ones, like other aircraft. If obstacles are identified, the drone automatically changes course.
Then, as it descends to deliver the package into a customer’s backyard, the drone will make sure that there’s a small area around the delivery location that’s clear of any people, animals or other obstacles.
Amazon executive chairman Jeff Bezos first indicated he was looking at drone delivery way back in 2013, and the company admits it has designed, built and tested many examples in the intervening years, creating over two dozen prototypes.
The drone in use for the Lockeford trial is the MK27-2, which has a unique hexagonal design for stability and has propellers designed to minimize high-frequency soundwaves. It can carry up to five pounds of cargo and has a top speed of 50 mph.
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