Amazon.com Inc. will make its Prime Air drone delivery service available in Lockeford, California later this year, the company announced today.
The news marks an important milestone for Amazon’s drone delivery efforts. After launching Prime Air in Lockeford, the company plans to bring the service to additional locations. Amazon said that it intends to expand the availability of the service “in months and years to come”.
For Lockeford residents, Prime Air will become available as a delivery option on Amazon’s e-commerce marketplace. The company’s drones will be capable of ferrying “thousands of everyday items” to users at a top speed of 50 miles per hour. A Prime Air drone can reach a maximum altitude of 400 feet during flight, then descend to customers’ backyards to release packages.
The development of Prime Air is led by an Amazon engineering group that the company says includes hundreds of scientists, engineers, aerospace professionals and futurists. The group is based at a facility near the company’s Seattle headquarters that also houses its drone manufacturing and assembly hub.
Amazon’s researchers have equipped its drones with an internally-developed software system that can automatically avoid obstacles. During flight, the system maneuvers around both static obstacles and moving objects such as other aircraft. Before a Prime Air drone lowers a package to a customer’s backyard, the onboard software checks whether the surrounding area is clear of obstacles.
The lessons that Amazon will glean from providing drone deliveries in Lockeford may help the company further enhance its technology. Amazon has already been rolling out technology upgrades at a quick pace, producing dozens of delivery drone prototypes since development of Prime Air began. Potentially, the Prime Air test program in Lockeford could help the company uncover additional opportunities for improvement across both its drone delivery fleet and other components of the service.
In addition deploying more delivery drones, expanding the availability of Prime Air to other locations will require Amazon to build supporting infrastructure. The know-how that the company gained from rapidly expanding its logistics network over the past few years could prove valuable in this area.
Prime Air is only one component of Amazon’s autonomous delivery strategy. In parallel with its delivery drone initiative, the company is developing a six-wheeled delivery robot called Scout that can ferry packages to consumers’ doorsteps. As part of its product testing efforts, Amazon has deployed Scout robots in a limited number of locations to help deliver e-commerce packages.
Amazon’s investments in emerging automation technologies also extends beyond its internal hardware development efforts. The company recently backed a $150 million funding round for startup Agility Robotics Inc., which is developing a bipedal robot designed to operate in environments such as e-commerce warehouses. Amazon made the investment through the $1 billion Amazon Industrial Innovation Fund that it debuted in April.
Amazon is not the only tech giant investing in autonomous delivery technologies. Alphabet Inc.’s Wing division operates a growing fleet of delivery drones that can ferry merchandise from retail stores to consumers. Wing’s drones are capable of flying at speeds of up to 65 miles an hour and can drop off packages without landing.