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.

Natal­ie Banke

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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(images: Ama­zon)