Amazon’s drone delivery finally launches, but we have so many questions

Amazon Prime Air coming soon to the city of Lockeford, California

Amazon’s drone delivery service has finally taken flight with the people of Lockeford, California, being the first to receive packages through the Prime Air program later this year.

The way the service works, according to Amazon, is that customers who live in Lockeford will start seeing items in the online store that are eligible for Prime Air delivery. You place an order as you normally would. Afterward, you’ll get a status tracker with an estimated time of arrival on the order as the drone flies off to your destination. 

The drone will fly to a space above your backyard, find an area free of obstacles, and hover over the yard at a “safe height.” Then the drone will lower the package, release it on the ground, and fly away.

Amazon revealed a bit about its drones’ features, which is something other similar services don’t really talk about. The company claims the drones are equipped with a “sophisticated… sense-and-avoid system” to avoid obstacles. They can detect if something is moving or stationary, then change course if necessary.

Amazon worked with the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) and regulators to make its drone delivery service possible. Looking at the pictures provided, the company had to go through many different prototypes before creating one that stuck.

That said, Amazon’s brief description of its service leaves many basic questions unanswered.

For starters, what is considered a “safe height” for dropping packages? What are the Prime Air eligible items and are they fragile? What if someone doesn’t have a backyard? Are Prime Aire deliveries more expensive? Are they covered under Amazon Prime customers’ free shipping benefit? We reached out to Amazon to ask if they could clarify all of these questions and more, but at the time of this writing, there’s been no response. 

Analysis: Hard to feel confident

While it’s exciting to see this service finally – ahem – take off, the lack of details and a spotty drone delivery track record don’t inspire a lot of confidence.

Thus far, Amazon has had a difficult time with its drones. A Bloomberg report from April 2022 revealed the team was dealing with technical problems and safety issues. Amazon also scaled back its international drone delivery program. According to a 2021 Wired report , Amazon shut down the Prime Air program in the UK after considerable inner turmoil.

Meanwhile, Walmart’s own drone delivery service looks more promising. The company teamed up with tech company DroneUp to offer a delivery program that can reach four million American households across six states. It flies seven days a week for 12 hours. Hopefully, Amazon’s rocky history with drones becomes a bad memory and its delivery service takes off.

By Cesar Cadenas

 

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