Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Amazon’s drone-delivery service rolled out in California and Texas

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Something to look forward to: If you’ve been wondering when (or if) Amazon would start dropping packages in your backyard via drone, the wait is over — well, sort of. During the run-up to Christmas, the company took some time to test its autonomous drones in a couple of US towns. The program only ran in small areas in California and Texas, but Amazon said it would expand drone deliveries to other locations in the coming months.

Amazon has finally started drone deliveries after nearly a decade in development. Over the holidays, Amazon Prime Air shipped a small number of packages to customers in Lockeford, California, and College Station, Texas. The retailing giant hopes to roll out airborne deliveries to more areas soon but doesn’t have a concrete timeline to reveal.

Lockeford is a small rural community of about 3,500 in California, just southeast of the state’s capital, Sacramento. Its sparse population is an ideal proving ground for Amazon’s pilot program, which the company promised to launch before year’s end.

The trails at College Station were a bit of a surprise as the June announcement had not mentioned it would run drone deliveries outside of Lockeford. However, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) only completed it environmental impact assessment earlier this month.

College Station is a mid-sized town of about 120,000 residents. So it’s quite a bit larger than Lockeford, but it makes sense that Amazon would want to test the autonomous drones in a more urban and densely packed setting.

“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,” a spokesperson said.

All Amazon Prime members who live in the two test areas are eligible for drone deliveries so long as they live within four miles of the Prime Air Drone Delivery Center (PADDC) in Lockeford or 3.73 miles of the College Station PADDC. Each hub comprises four sectors, with only one drone allowed to fly in a given quadrant at once.

Deliveries will only occur during daylight hours five days per week. Amazon said it could carry out a maximum of 50 shipments per sector per day. That frequency works out to about 4,000 drone deliveries per month in any given area. Customers using the service can expect to receive packages dropped in their backyards within an hour of ordering.

The FAA granted Amazon a Part 135 air carrier certification in 2020. This authorization allows operators to fly drones beyond their visual line of sight. Although Amazon Prime Air drones are autonomous, pilots still monitor them to ensure safety.

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