Customers of the Amazon Pharmacy service can now receive certain prescription medications via drone delivery in Texas
The next stage of drone deliveries from Amazon has begun, with customers of Amazon Pharmacy in Texas now able to receive certain medications via the air delivery service.
In a blog post, Amazon announced that customers in College Station, Texas can now get their medications delivered in 60 minutes or less via a drone.
Amazon has been conducting drone deliveries for a while now, but not everything has gone smoothly. In August this year Amazon lost two key executives associated with its long standing drone delivery operation.
And in November 2020 Amazon reportedly laid off dozens of R&D and manufacturing staff working on its delivery drone service – Amazon Prime Air.
But these setbacks have not stopped Amazon working on its drone delivery idea. In December 2022 Amazon began delivering orders by drone, after ‘Amazon Prime Air’ began operating in Lockeford, California. and College Station, Texas.
Lockeford has a population of about 3,500, and is located between Sacramento and Modesto.
College Station meanwhile is located roughly 100 miles north west of Houston.
Now in the blog post, Amazon said that Amazon Pharmacy customers have a new way to get the medications they need quickly and affordably.
It said that customers in College Station, Texas can now get their prescription medications dropped outside their door via Amazon’s drone delivery service within 60 minutes of placing their order – at no additional cost.
The way it works is that after the order is placed, a pharmacist will then ensure medications are loaded and transported to a customer’s home within the next hour. College Station residents selecting drone delivery will have access to more than 500 medications that treat common conditions, including flu, asthma, and pneumonia.
Amazon Pharmacy customers with an urgent health care condition can also access Amazon Clinic – which offers virtual, 24/7 treatment for 35 conditions, including a newly launched cold and flu condition – or One Medical, a hybrid virtual and in-person primary care offering.
“We’re taught from the first days of medical school that there is a golden window that matters in clinical medicine,” said Dr. Vin Gupta, chief medical officer of Amazon Pharmacy. “That’s the time between when a patient feels unwell and when they’re able to get treatment. We’re working hard at Amazon to dramatically narrow the golden window from diagnosis to treatment, and drone delivery marks a significant step forward.”
Amazon said that its drones fly at an altitude of 40 to 120 meters – an airspace with minimal obstacles. The drone’s built-in sense-and-avoid technology uses sensors and cameras to navigate around people, pets, and power lines.
Cameras on the drone feed into a neural network trained to identify objects, Amazon said. On arrival at the customer’s home, the drone slowly lowers itself above a delivery marker. Computer vision will detect any structures or objects protruding from the ground – including people and animals – and check if they are interfering with the descent path.
When the delivery zone is clear, the drone releases the package, rises back up to altitude, and returns to the delivery centre. Customers pick up packages without any interaction with the drone.
“Our drones fly over traffic, eliminating the excess time a customer’s package might spend in transit on the road,” said Calsee Hendrickson, director of product and program management at Prime Air. “That’s the beauty of drone delivery, and medications were the first thing our customers said they also want delivered quickly via drone. Speed and convenience top the wish list for health purchases.”
The concept of drone deliveries has been under development at Amazon for the best part of a decade.
The idea is that drones can deliver packages weighing up to 2.3 kilograms.
Amazon at one stage also patented the idea of a possible floating mothership retail hub (a warehouse in the sky) for drone deliveries.
Amazon had already tested drone deliveries in the United Kingdom. This occurred when Amazon began testing its delivery drone service in Cambridge in July 2016.
A package was delivered, by drone, in just 13 minutes.
But in the US, airspace restrictions led to years of frustrations for drone companies.
In 2015 for example Amazon said it had been testing its “Prime Air” delivery drones in Canada’s British Columbia, after the e-commerce giant had previously criticised the US rules as an overly restrictive to the technology.
In June 2019 the FAA granted Amazon a permit to operate its updated drone in the United States, before it issued in September this year a Part 135 air carrier certificate, which must be held before a company begins drone deliveries.
As a result Amazon said it would begin drone deliveries “within months”, but that didn’t pan out.
Finally in 2022 Amazon announced its plans to begin commercial drone delivery services, pending final regulatory approval.
In August 2022 Amazon received the final approval from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to use drones for package deliveries in two areas.
And then in December 2022 Amazon began delivering orders by drone in Lockeford, California. and College Station, Texas.