Remember when Amazon founder (and then-CEO) Jeff Bezos went on the 60 Minutes television show 9 years ago and revealed he was working on drones to deliver packages to Amazon customers? It seemed like science fiction. (David shared his reaction to Bezos’s big reveal in 2013 on the EcommerceBytes blog.)
Now it’s close to reality – later this year, Amazon will make Prime Air drone deliveries to customers in Lockeford, California, a town of 8.4 square miles with a population of about 3,500 whose main attraction appear to be its wineries.
In a blog post on Monday, Amazon said, “We are working with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and local officials in Lockeford to obtain permission to conduct these deliveries and will continue with that collaboration into the future.”
Amazon shared that its Prime Air drones can fly up to 50 miles per hour up to an altitude of 400ft.
Obviously not every item for sale on the Amazon Marketplace is suitable for delivery by drone – one limitation is the weight of items: the drones can carry packages weighing up to 5lbs. Thus, Amazon will show eligible customers in Lockeford which items are Prime Air-eligible when they’re shopping.
To fulfill items, an Amazon drone will fly to a buyer’s 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.
Amazon provided additional details about its “sense-and-avoid” system:
“When flying to the delivery location and back, Amazon drones can identify static objects (like chimneys) and moving obstacles (like other aircraft).
“If obstacles are detected, Amazon drones will automatically change course to safely avoid them. As the 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.”
Another interesting point: “Since the inception of Prime Air, we have designed, built, and tested many drones. In fact, we’ve created more than two dozen prototypes,” Amazon said. You can read more on Amazon blog on the AboutAmazon.com website.