Amazon drone deliveries to be trialled in Californian town



Amazon customers in Lockeford, California, will be among the first to receive Prime Air drone deliveries in the U.S. The promise of drone delivery has often felt like science fiction. We’ve been working for almost a decade to make it a reality, said Amazon. 

The firm originally established its drone research division, Prime Air back in 2016. The initial forecast planned to get drones delivering products by late 2018. In 2020, the company received permission to begin deliveries from the FAA, but it has come up against a number of challenges including layoffs, increases in workload and unrealistic expectations on timeline. Former staff revealed the division’s troubles last year. 

Amazon present the challenge: How do you get items to customers quickly, cost-effectively, and – most importantly – safely, in less than an hour? And how do you do it in a way that can scale? 

“It’s relatively easy to use existing technology to fly a light payload a short distance that’s within your line of sight, but it’s a very different challenge to build a network that can deliver to customers across large communities,” the statement read.

Lockeford has historic links to the aviation industry. The community had one of the early pioneers of aviation – Weldon B. Cooke, who built and flew early planes in the early 1900s – as a former resident. Now, over a century later, residents will get the opportunity to sign up for free drone delivery on thousands of everyday items.

Residents’ 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.

“Lockeford residents will soon have access to one of the world’s leading delivery innovations,” said California State Assemblyman Heath Flora, whose district includes Lockeford. “It’s exciting that Amazon will be listening to the feedback of the San Joaquin County community to inform the future development of this technology.”

Amazon is working with the FAA and local officials in Lockeford to obtain permission to conduct these deliveries and will continue with that collaboration in the future.

The firm has created what it calls an “industry-leading” sense-and-avoid system that will enable operations without visual observers and allow our drone to operate at greater distances while avoiding other aircraft, people and obstacles.

The sense-and-avoid system has been designed for two main scenarios: to be safe when in transit, and to be safe when approaching the ground, said Amazon.

When flying to the delivery location, the drones need to be able to identify static and moving obstacles. The software’s algorithms use a suite of technologies for object detection. Using this system, the 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, the drone will automatically change course to safely avoid them. As the drone descends to deliver the package into a customer’s garden, the drone ensures that there’s a small area around the delivery location that’s clear of any people, animals, or other obstacles.

Since the inception of Prime Air, Amazon has designed, built, and tested more than two dozen prototypes.