A small community in Northern California will be among the first in the nation to receive free Amazon deliveries by drone this year, usually within 30 minutes of the order being placed, the company announced.
Amazon selected the town of Lockeford, population 3,572, for the pilot program, as it was the home of Weldon B. Cooke, an aeronautical pioneer in the 1900s. The service will be for Prime customers only and is going to be called “Prime Air.”
“We’re building something different,” Amazon said in a blog post. “We’ve created a sophisticated and industry-leading sense-and-avoid system that will enable operations without visual observers and allow our drone to operate at greater distances while safely and reliably avoiding other aircraft, people, pets, and obstacles.”
The drones will change course if they see obstacles such as telephone poles or chimneys, and they will touch down in designated spaces free of any items. Customers must have an Amazon inspection beforehand to make sure their area is large enough to accept deliveries.
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The company has tested more than two dozen prototypes of the drone and is currently working with state and federal regulators on the red tape required to start operation, CBS News reported. Thousands of available items will be available for purchase using this option.
Meanwhile, founder Jeff Bezos’s 2013 vision of drone deliveries has been adopted by Walmart and UPS. Walmart wants to begin operating in six states this year — Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Texas, Utah, and Virginia — with a reach of 4 million customers. UPS has been experimenting but does not have a target launch yet.
“You can see why drone delivery would make sense, in a moment when there’s a labor shortage — it’s really hard to hire truck drivers,” retail analyst Zak Stambor told CBS. “For example, gas prices are rising and show no end in sight.”
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However, the program is not without its challenges. Crashes, including one that started a brush fire, have put a damper on any full-fledged operation. The current plans are designated as test flights by the Federal Aviation Administration, and customers are asked to offer reviews on their delivery experiences.