Amazon Begins ‘Prime Air’ Drone Deliveries In California, Texas

Amazon’s long-term plan to utilise drones for home deliveries has moved one step closer this Christmas.

Ars Technica reported that Amazon began delivering orders by drone, after ‘Amazon Prime Air’ began operating in Lockeford, California. and College Station, Texas, delivering a small number of packages just in time for Christmas.

It comes after Amazon in June this year had announced its plans to begin commercial drone delivery services in the town of Lockeford, pending final regulatory approval.

Amazon Prime Air Drone. Image credit Amazon

Lockeford, College Station

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.

In August Amazon received the needed approval from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to use drones for package deliveries in these two areas.

The maximum payload for an Amazon Prime Air done is 5 lb (or 2.26kgs), and Amazon says that 85 percent of its shipments fall under that weight.

Amazon Prime Air Drone. Image credit Amazon

Ars Technica reported that residents of both towns (Lockeford and College Station) can sign up for the service, and Amazon will then confirm that the company can deliver safely to the customer’s address.

Once an order is placed, the customer gets an estimated delivery time and tracking info.

“The drone will fly to the designated delivery location, descend to the customer’s backyard, and hover at a safe height,” Amazon was quoted as saying. “It will then safely release the package and rise back up to altitude.”

Amazon Prime Air Drone. Image credit Amazon

“Our aim is to safely introduce our drones to the skies. We are starting in these communities and will gradually expand deliveries to more customers over time,” Natalie Banke, Amazon Air spokesperson reportedly told KTXL Fox 40 in Sacramento, which first reported the launch of Prime Air.

Unlike earlier drone models (Amazon built at least two dozen different prototypes of drones since 2013), Ars Technica noted that Amazon is using a hexagonal MK27-2 delivery drone with six propellers designed to minimize high-frequency sound waves.

Amazon’s first concept delivery drone, MK4. Image credit: Amazon

Amazon Prime Air

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 previously 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.

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.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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