Ever since Amazon first announced the concept of drone delivery back in 2013, company promises have been consistently broken, where “Cry Wolf” is a regular theme. For example, in 2019 Amazon even stated it would begin drone deliveries “within months.”
So when the company promised, yet again, trials to start, this time in 2022, finally that promise was kept, snucked in with less than a few weeks to go before 2023. This much vaunted pledge was first announced back in June.
For drone delivery trials by Amazon Prime Air has begun in Lockeford, California and College Station, Texas allowing customers to use the service just before Christmas, after approval from the FAA had been granted in August.
College Station, located roughly 100 miles north-west of Houston, has a population of around 120,000, whereas Lockeford, situated between Sacramento and Modesto, is much smaller with just 3,500 people.
The maximum product payload is 5 lbs, where 85 percent of shipments fall under that weight. Residents of both towns can sign up for the service and Amazon then confirms whether the company can deliver safely to the person’s address. Once an accepted order is placed, the customer gets an estimated delivery time and tracking info.
Natalie Banke, an Amazon Air spokesperson, commented, “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.”
The drone flies to the designated delivery location, descends to the customer’s backyard, and hovers at a safe height. The craft safely releases the package and then rises back up to altitude.
One problem Amazon Prime Air face is the already existing competition. While the company has been procrastinating since 2013, others have taken the lead. The primary drone delivery companies in active U.S service are Drone-Up, Zipline and Flytrex. Collaborations with retailers include the major American chain, Walmart. The company recently announced expansion of trials to six States. Then there is Alphabet’s Wing who has partnered with a growing number of retailers in the U.S, Australia and Finland and is presently undergoing a slew of successful trials.
Yet, some suggest Amazon’s drone technology could be superior to its rivals allowing the flight of its drones to be more reliable and potentially safer during BVLOS operations. The company has built at least two dozen different prototypes since 2013 including major changes to the look of the craft.
Today, Amazon is using a much-improved hexagonal-shaped MK27-2 delivery drone with six propellers designed to minimise high-frequency sound waves and developed with cutting-edge sense-and-avoid systems allowing the craft to evade other aircraft, people, pets and general obstacles.
Yet, Amazon’s greatest strength over its rivals is the online company itself. Founded in 1994 by Jeff Bezos, today it attracts a net annual income of USD33.36 billion (2021); has 1.54 million employees; and is a major global business. While Wing and other rivals need to set-up a steady-stream of new relationships with retailers in different countries to expand, Amazon already has its global online networks in situ avoiding any potential logistics nightmares faced by its competition.
The delivery mechanism is straight-toward too, based on Amazon’s already ubiquitous online ordering system: eligible customers will simply have an additional choice for shipping when they order items from the app or site.
The start of Prime Air may not only speed-up the development of drone delivery, but signal a shift in retail transportation across the globe. Whether the competition can keep up is another matter.
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