After years of development, Amazon is finally ready to take the next step in top-of-the-line delivery with their introduction of Air Prime, a drone service that could eliminate long shipping times while creating new jobs and environmental benefits in the process.
The idea of flying drones delivering packages quickly and neatly, eliminating the lengthy time it normally takes for shipping by delivery truck, has always been an intriguing idea. However, it appears Amazon is finally approaching making that almost science fiction dream a reality.
After decades of work, the Jeff Bezos-led company announced it would be using its delivery drones — aka, “Prime Air” — in Lockeford, California. Select Lockeford users will be able to sign up for drone delivery for free while choosing from “thousands of items.” The drones themselves can carry payloads of five pounds at speeds of 50 miles per hour. When dropping off the packages, the drone will descend in the customer’s backyard, hover at a safe height, and release the package.
“We’ve created a sophisticated and industry-leading sense-and-avoid system that will enable operations without visual observers and allow our drone to operate at greater distances while safely and reliably avoiding other aircraft, people, pets, and obstacles,” a release said.
Amazon noted their drones’ sense-and-avoid system have been designed for two scenarios: being safe in transit, and being safe when approaching the ground. “Using this system, our drone can identify a static object in its path, like a chimney. It can also detect moving objects on the horizon, like other aircraft, even when it’s hard for people to see them,” Amazon explained.
Because of that system, the drones will need visual observers along the route, limiting their delivery radius. The company does think the drones can reach a point where observers aren’t necessary, however.
“It took years of inventing, testing, and improving to develop these breakthrough technologies, and we’re excited to use them to make customer deliveries.”
Lockeford, which houses a population of around 3,500, isn’t just any random city picked by Amazon to kick off their service. Instead, there’s relevance that the company highlighted that made it an excellent candidate for aviation history.
“The community boasts one of the early pioneers of aviation — Weldon B. Cooke, who built and flew early planes in the early 1900s — as a former resident,” Amazon said, emphasizing its residents and their feedback will play an important part in helping them “create a service that will safely scale to meet the needs of customers everywhere.”
California Assemblyman Heath Flora said that Lockeford’s proximity to a major Amazon hub, it’s environment — flat, rural, low density, lack of obstructions, and fair weather — and the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) preference also made it an ideal starting zone. Amazon noted that the drones will fly only during the daytime, and at no more than an altitude of 400 feet.
There’s certainly plenty of benefits to potential swarms of delivery drones. In addition to the time cut down on package shipping, operating costs for a drone delivery service are 40% to 70% less than a vehicle system delivery model.
“As we launch the service in Lockeford, we’ll also be investing in the community, creating new jobs, building partnerships with local organizations, and helping reduce carbon emissions.”
The drone delivery service will certainly see usage no matter where it lands. Amazon is currently gaining steam behind UPS and USPS in package delivery volume at 22% (UPS sits at 24%, with USPS at 32%). The company delivers 1.6 million packages a day, and delivered more than five billion total packages in the U.S. in 2021. Experts and the company alike both expect it to surpass UPS this year.
As with all game-changing technology, it’s been an integrate road for Amazon to reach this milestone, ironically marking this as something of a “comeback story” for a company that’s continuing to make waves in the delivery industry 28 years after its inception. In 2013, Bezos targeted 2018 as a potential start year for Prime Air, though it worked through costs and scalability throughout that time.
Additionally, even with the anticipation and prior years of work, there’s still a ways to go before the machines are completely perfected, and questions could remain even throughout the drones’ development. Residents have already voiced concerns, though the county’s Board of Supervisors Chair, Chuck Winn, explained that the concerns don’t seem to be detrimental to the delivery concept.
“Obviously there are questions. But I didn’t see an uproar or outrage in regards to this particular project,” Winn said. Amazon also calmed down worries by detailing economic boons that will arise from the project, which include more jobs, relationships with local businesses, and environmentalism.
Amazon isn’t the only company trying to achieve air delivery dominance. Others, like Walmart and Alphabet (parent of Google) have started similar delivery testing processes. Considering the potential involved, it’s clear Amazon views Air Prime as the next important cog in their ever-evolving business model
Andrew Rhoades is a Contributing Reporter at The National Digest based in New York. A Saint Joseph’s University graduate, Rhoades’ reporting includes sports, U.S., and entertainment. You can reach him at email@example.com.