Amazon has been talking about drone-delivered packages for many years at this point but it’s finally going to happen, at least in one town in California.
The promise of drone delivery has often felt like science fiction. We’ve been working for almost a decade to make it a reality…
Our teams of hundreds of scientists, engineers, aerospace professionals, and futurists have been working hard to do just that—and later this year, Amazon customers living in Lockeford, California, will become among the first to receive Prime Air deliveries…
Lockeford residents will play an important role in defining the future. Their feedback about Prime Air, with drones delivering packages in their backyards, will help us create a service that will safely scale to meet the needs of customers everywhere—while adding another innovation milestone to the town’s aviation history.
I’ve lived in California for 25 years and I’ve never heard of Lockeford. It’s a rural area a couple miles east of Lodi and, according to Wikipedia, has a population of about 3,500. If you don’t know where Lodi is, it’s just north of Stockton in the northern part of the state.
This is obviously a very small pilot program but already I notice a couple of things. First, the plan to drop packages into customer’s backyards seems like a good idea at first glance. One of the problems with current package deliveries is the potential for package thieves who walk up to your porch and walk away with your items. And you can imagine the arrival of a noisy drone overhead would be like a signal to potential thieves that something has just been delivered. So shifting deliveries to the backyard seems a little safer for the customer.
Amazon is really pushing the technology behind these drones which makes them able to avoid mid-air collisions with other objects and also allows them to verify there is a safe place to drop their payload.
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. As our 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…
Once onboarded, customers in Lockeford will see Prime Air-eligible items on Amazon. They will place an order as they normally would and receive an estimated arrival time with a status tracker for their order. For these deliveries, 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.
Speaking of animals, dogs are going to hate these things, right? The drones better stay far enough off the ground to avoid leaping Dobermans.
But once you get outside of a rural town like Lockeford, CA a lot of people don’t have backyards or front yards for that matter. It’s not clear how this system is going to work for an apartment building holding several hundred people. Maybe people who need 1-hour delivery would be willing to just run outside when they get a text message on their phone saying the drone is approaching their location. They could literally be there to receive delivery, similar to what you would do when ordering a pizza (except you’ll have to step outside for this).
The design of the Prime Air drones shown in Amazon’s announcement (that’s their image above) doesn’t seem to have changed much since this flight test video they posted on YouTube almost exactly three years ago.
The one thing that may not come across in this clip (or the image above) is how big this thing is. There’s another photo at the site which gives a better sense of it.
— Engadget (@engadget) June 13, 2022
So these are quite large and will probably be quite noisy when they get close. Again, dogs are going to hate them but I guess we’ll see if human customers just get used to it.