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Amazon’s drone delivery service is set to finally take to the skies this year

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HIGHLIGHTS :

  • Amazon said Monday it will begin to deliver products using Prime Air drones in Lockeford, California, later this year.
  • It’s the first time the company plans to use drones for customer deliveries in the U.S.
  • Other companies, like Alphabet and Walmart, have already started to make similar flying deliveries.

Amazon Prime customers in Lockeford, California, will start receiving package deliveries by drone later this year, Amazon announced Monday. That would make the community of 3,500 among the first U.S. locations to enjoy free drone delivery within 30 minutes — a promise that Amazon founder Jeff Bezos first made nearly a decade ago.

The eCommerce company started contacting customers in Lockeford this week to ask them to opt into drone delivery, said Amazon spokesperson Av Zammit. Once a customer enrolls, an Amazon employee will visit to make sure their yard has enough clear space to accept drone deliveries, Zammit added.

Drone delivery will be free for Prime members, and only Prime members can use the service. There will be “thousands of items available” for drone delivery, Zammit said, while declining to offer more details.

Before the pilot can get underway,

Amazon still needs to secure Part 135 certification from the Federal Aviation Administration. On that front, the company is playing catchup with competitors like Walmart and Wing, both of which announced recent expansions to their respective pilots. Amazon also hasn’t said what products it will offer through the service. It’s likely to share those details soon.

According to Amazon, part of the reason it has taken it so long to get Prime Air to this point is the more complex drone service it wants to build. The company notes it has spent much of the last decade developing an “industry-leading” navigation system that will allow its drones to avoid both static and moving objects. Developing that system hasn’t been without its challenges. In 2021, for instance, five of the company’s drones crashed over a four-month period, according to reporting from Bloomberg. But today’s announcement would indicate Amazon is confident enough in the system to begin using it out in the real world.

Amazon notes:

We designed our sense-and-avoid system for two main scenarios: to be safe when in transit, and to be safe when approaching the ground. When flying to the delivery location, the drones need to be able to identify static and moving obstacles. Our algorithms use a diverse suite of technologies for object detection. 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. If obstacles are identified, our drone will automatically change course to safely avoid them.

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