After Years of Waiting, Amazon Announces Launch of First Drone Delivery Program

BY Zacc Dukowitz
22 June 2022

Back in 2013 Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, predicted that the company would be making drone deliveries in just five years.

But 2018 came and went, and rather than launch a drone delivery program, Amazon Prime Air—Amazon’s drone delivery subsidiary—has faced a series of setbacks and layoffs.

amazon-prime-air
Credit: Amazon Prime Air

While companies like Alphabet’s Wing and UPS’ Flight Forward have launched successful drone delivery programs, Amazon continued to face delays, so much so that some predicted the company would never actually succeed in the effort.

Now, eight years after Bezos’ prediction, Amazon Prime Air has announced the launch of its very first drone delivery program.

About Amazon Prime Air’s First Drone Delivery Program

Amazon’s first drone delivery program will be located in Lockeford, California.

The company hasn’t shared a specific date for the launch yet, only stating that it will begin later this year.

prime-air-amazon-drone
Credit: Amazon Prime Air

Thousands of items will be available for delivery through the new program, an impressive fact given that some other drone delivery programs only offer specific items from a limited list, especially when they first launch.

Here’s how the drone delivery program will work for Lockeford residents:

  • Customers will be onboarded to the program (it’s unclear if this is a step they need to take or if onboarding will be automatic for all residents of Lockeford).
  • After onboarding, customers will see Prime Air items on Amazon.
  • Customers can then order any of these items and they will be delivered by drone.

The program will be a test case for Amazon, through which it will gain information so it can launch more programs in the U.S.

Lockeford residents will play an important role in defining the future. Their feedback about Prime Air, with drones delivering packages in their backyards, will help us create a service that will safely scale to meet the needs of customers everywhere

Statement from Amazon Prime Air

The specific date for the launch hasn’t been shared yet because Amazon is still awaiting FAA approval for the program, but we imagine the company is pretty confident about getting the green light given the fact that it has shared the news publicly.

Amazon already has an air carrier certificate from the FAA. Also called a Part 135, this certificate is the FAA’s official path for allowing drone companies to make deliveries in the U.S.

So far, only Amazon Prime Air, Wing, and Flight Forward have a Part 135.

How Amazon’s Drones Make Deliveries

The idea of drone delivery is simple—the drone carries an item from a warehouse to a recipient and leaves it there.

But the last step, in which the drone actually deposits the item at the delivery location, is actually fairly complicated. You need to account for pedestrians, dogs, or debris being in the way, and you may have other unforeseen challenges that make landing the drone untenable.

Some companies have solved this problem by using a wire or rope to lower the package to the ground. Others, like Zipline, attach a parachute to the package. And at least one company has developed a delivery receptacle, which looks like a mailbox and provides a safe place for the drone to deposit the package.

zipline-drone-delivery
Credit: Zipline

Amazon’s approach is more straightforward: the drone lands and puts the package on the ground.

According to Amazon, its delivery drones will fly to your backyard, descend, hover for a moment, and then land and safely release the package.

This capability is made possible by a proprietary sense-and-avoid system that Amazon Prime Air developed so the drone could be safe while in flight and while depositing a delivery.

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

– Statement from Amazon Prime Air

The sense-and-avoid system has an algorithm that allows it to identify both static objects (i.e., a garbage can) and moving objects (i.e., a pet dog) and avoid them while flying. It can also detect objects on the horizon, including other aircraft, allowing the drone to adjust its flight path to avoid a collision.

amazon-drone-delivery-package
Credit: Amazon Prime Air

Although Amazon’s new drone delivery program is exciting news, it’s worth noting that other companies are far beyond the testing phase with drone delivery here in the U.S.

Wing has two fully functioning drone delivery programs, Flytrex has four, and Walmart just announced that they’re expanding drone deliveries to an incredible 34 new sites, making it available to four million customers.

Although Amazon is certainly a juggernaut when it comes to selling items for home delivery, it still has a long way to go before it catches up on the drone delivery front.

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