Amazon says it plans to begin commercial drone delivery services in a small California town this year, pending final regulatory approval, after years of developing the technology.
The company said users in the town of Lockeford, which has a population of about 5,000, located between Sacramento and Modesto, will be able to sign up to have thousands of lightweight items delivered to their homes.
“The promise of drone delivery has often felt like science fiction,” the company said in a blog post. “We’ve been working for almost a decade to make it a reality.”
The company created its Prime Air division in 2013, with then-chief executive Jeff Bezos promising drone deliveries at scale in five years.
In 2019 the company said it would begin drone deliveries “within months”.
Amazon said feedback from Lockeford residents would “help us create a service that will safely scale to meet the needs of customers everywhere”.
It said it has developed drones with sense-and-avoid systems allowing them to avoid “other aircraft, people, pets and obstacles”.
These systems mean the drones can be operated outside line-of-sight, meaning they do not require a pilot who is in visual contact with the machine.
The machines are intended to be autonomous, guided by GPS and sensors.
Amazon was awarded an FAA air carrier certificate for its drones in September 2020, but the specific flight paths it intends to use still require approval.
Once they are signed up, customers in Lockeford will see Prime Air-eligible items listed on Amazon’s website.
After placing an order the customer will receive an estimated arrival time with a status tracker.
“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 back up to altitude,” the company said.
It said the aim is to safely deliver packages to customers in under an hour.
Amazon says it has built two dozen different prototypes of drones since 2013.
It aims for the drones to have a range of up to 15 miles with the ability to carry items weighing up to 5lb.
In April Bloomberg reported alleged safety concerns about Amazon’s drones — with the retailer responding it “rigorously” tested its flights in compliance with “all applicable regulations”.
Amazon said it had “worked closely with the FAA and other regulators” on the Lockeford delivery plan.
The company has tested its service in the UK as well, in December 2016 running a trial in Cambridge that delivered a parcel by drone in 13 minutes.
Amazon has more recently trialled drone delivery through partnerships with US retailer Walmart as well as FedEx and UPS.
Royal Mail announced plans last month to increase its use of drones with the creation of 50 new postal drone routes.
The first routes are in the Isles of Scilly, the Shetland Islands, the Orkney Islands and the Hebrides.
Royal Mail chief executive Simon Thompson said the initiative would help reduce carbon emissions.
“On-time delivery regardless of our customers’ location or the weather, whilst protecting our environment, is our goal,” he said.
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