Amazon drones to make deliveries in California

Largest e-commerce company tries to catch up with Walmart drone deliveries in the US

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Amazon, the world's largest e-commerce company, will start delivering some purchases to US customers by drones later this year, with the service set to be rolled out in parts of California.

Customers living in Lockeford, San Joaquin county, will be the first to receive Prime Air deliveries, the Seattle-based company said in a statement.

Based on their feedback about Prime Air, Amazon will scale the service to meet the needs of customers in other parts of the world.

Amazon said it is working with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and local officials in Lockeford to obtain permission to conduct these deliveries.

Its teams of scientists, engineers, aerospace professionals and futurists are working on the project.

Amazon delivery drone. Photo: Amazon

“As we launch the service in Lockeford, we will also be investing in the community, creating new jobs, building partnerships with local organisations and helping reduce carbon emissions … thanks to this futuristic technology that could one day become just as common as seeing an Amazon delivery van pull up outside your house,” the company said.

Prime Air is one of the three drone-delivery companies that have gone through the rigorous process to earn an FAA air carrier certificate, which will be required to operate drones using these advanced capabilities, Amazon said.

“It took years of inventing, testing and improving to develop these breakthrough technologies, and we are excited to use them to make customer deliveries.”

Walmart, the world's biggest retailer, already offers drone delivery. In May, the company said it planned to expand the service to six states by year-end with the potential to drop off one million packages annually.

Amazon customers in the northern California town of Lockeford will be able to sign up for free delivery by “Prime Air” drones.

“Air-eligible” items ordered on the retailer's website will be packed into drones that will fly to the delivery addresses, deposit packages outside from safe heights, then fly away, said Amazon.

The company said its drones are equipped with a sense-and-avoid system that ensures they are safe when in transit and when approaching the ground.

Amazon's algorithms allow the drones to to detect various objects including identifying a static object in their path, such as a chimney, or moving objects like other aircraft.

If obstacles are identified, the drone will automatically change course to safely avoid them.

The company said it has designed, built, and tested many drones, creating more than two dozen prototypes.

Once on-boarded, customers in Lockeford will see Prime Air-eligible items on Amazon.

After placing an order, a customer will receive an estimated arrival time with a status tracker for their purchase.

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 again to altitude.

The drones that will go into operation can carry loads as heavy as 2.2 kilograms in packages about the size of a large shoebox, an Amazon representative told AFP.

Items approved for drone delivery will include household products, beauty items, office supplies and tech gear, they said.

A variety of companies ranging from new start-ups to major tech companies such as Google-parent Alphabet are working on autonomous drone delivery.

Alphabet's project Wing completed its first real-world drone deliveries in 2014 in rural Australia where it successfully transported first-aid supplies, sweets, dog treats, and water to farmers, the company says on its website.

Two years after that, Wing drones were used to deliver burritos to students at a university in Virginia.

Updated: June 15, 2022, 5:08 PM