Amazon.com Inc. announced Wednesday that it plans to expand its Prime Air drone delivery network into the United Kingdom and Italy by the end of 2024. The company also said that it is adding a third city unnamed in the United States, in addition to Lockeford, California and College Station, Texas.
The company didn’t reveal any specific details about the cities or specific coverage areas that the new drone operations would participate in, but said that that Amazon was “working closely with national regulators and international regulators, and communities in the EU, Italy, the U.K. and the U.S., to develop this program.”
Drone deliveries will begin integrating with Amazon’s normal delivery network in addition to its trucks and delivery drivers, meaning that Prime Air drones will deploy from some of the company’s Same-Day Delivery sites at the new locations. Previously, drones operated out of specialized facilities that only deployed drones, now they will launch from the same locations as drivers.
According to the company drones will first be integrated at one fulfillment center in each city and then expand over time.
“The new locations add to our existing drone delivery operations in the U.S., where we’ve been using drones to safely deliver packages weighing up to five pounds in one hour or less, for almost a year,” the company said in the announcement.
Alongside the expansion news, Amazon unveiled a new drone design, the MK30. According to the company, although it doesn’t increase the carrying capacity of previous versions – it still provides only five pounds of weight – it can fly twice as far, meaning that it can greatly increase the coverage area. The drone is also much quieter than other models and is capable of flying in much more adverse weather conditions, allowing it to operate in rain, and hotter and colder temperatures.
The new drone operates with helicopter vertical takeoff using six rotors and then transitions into a horizontal design to provide wing-borne flight once in the air. It also uses specialized technology that allows the drones to avoid obstacles when airborne and descending to drop off packages, including people, pets and property.
The previous models required a large space for drop-offs and needed the entire area to be completely clear of all obstacles – including pets and people. However, with the with new assistive technologies, these new drones can work with much smaller backyards.
“The design and testing of the MK30 came together in about 18 months through the innovative and collaborative work of our engineers — but it really took many years of development and dozens of prototypes to lead to this moment,” said Amazon.
According to the company, the new design is slated to replace the current stock of drones currently operating in the network by the end of 2024.
This news comes alongside the company announcing the launch of a new drone delivery service out of its College Station, Texas location that will provide Amazon Pharmacy customers same-day delivery of their medications. The service will deliver more than 500 different medications that can treat common ailments, including flu, asthma, acne, allergies, pneumonia and other conditions.
Amazon said that it has a goal of delivering over 500 million packages annually by the end of the decade, said Amazon Prime Air Vice President David Carbon during an Amazon media event Wednesday. This sort of ambition will take a considerable expansion of the company’s network. That means continuing to work with regulators and building it out.
“Amazon’s announcement today is a fantastic example of government and industry coming together to achieve our shared vision for commercial drones to be commonplace in the UK by 2030,” said U.K. Aviation Minister Baroness Vere. “Not only will this help boost the economy, offering consumers even more choice while helping keep the environment clean with zero emission technology, but it will also build our understanding how to best use the new technology safely and securely.”
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