Amazon to try drone deliveries again

Amazon need another shot at the primetime.

Nearly ten years after promising the world that they were going to shake the last mile delivery sector by their game changing drones, the online retailer has moved from one mishap after another – a collapse of their European operations, a good number of hardware crashes during inhouse trials, reports of alleged safety lapses, and a high staff turnover among other setbacks.

But for Amazon, it does not matter how many times one falls; what matters is the number of times one rises from the ground to try again.

So the online retail giant is getting up again – the company has announced that, subject to regulatory approvals, it will be resuscitating its Amazon Prime Air delivery drone project and commencing package delivery operations in the community of Lockeford, in central California in the US, starting later this year.

The community has a population of about 3,572 in 2020.

Of course, several drone logistics providers have already been there and done that, but this will be a first for Amazon, which does acknowledge that “we’ve been working for almost a decade to make this a reality. Our teams of hundreds of scientists, engineers, aerospace professionals, and futurists have been working hard to do just that — and later this year, Amazon customers living in Lockeford, California, will become among the first to receive Prime Air deliveries.”

Given what they have gone through over the last ten years, it is no surprise that the company is still of the opinion that the promise of drone delivery feels like science fiction.

“How do you get items to customers quickly, cost-effectively, and — most importantly — safely, in less than an hour,” Amazon asked of its latest attempt in a statement.

“And how do you do it in a way that can scale? It’s relatively easy to use existing technology to fly a light payload a short distance that’s within your line of sight, but it’s a very different challenge to build a network that can deliver to customers across large communities.

“Lockeford residents will play an important role in defining the future. Their feedback about Prime Air, with drones delivering packages in their backyards, will help us create a service that will safely scale to meet the needs of customers everywhere — while adding another innovation milestone to the town’s aviation history.”

Amazon has tried a lot of prototypes over the years.

Our prima facie uneducated opinion is that Amazon should just choose a prototype, stick with it and work on making it more perfect. But since they announced their delivery drone project in 2013, the company admits that it has tried more than twenty-four drone prototypes; and still apparently could not settle on one until now.

“Since the inception of Prime Air, we have designed, built, and tested many drones. In fact, we’ve created more than two dozen prototypes, including our latest version, which we’re excited to now use to make customer deliveries in real-world environments.”

Two dozen is a lot, Amazon. It’s a helluva lot of drones to try, and discard. But we are delighted that you have finally come to a decision on one of them.

Amazon added that their drone will have features like a sense-and-avoid system that they hope will enable autonomous operations and allow drones to autonomously detect and avoid other aircraft and obstacles like buildings, people and pets.

“We designed our sense-and-avoid system for two main scenarios: to be safe when in transit, and to be safe when approaching the ground,” the company said.

“When flying to the delivery location, the drones need to be able to identify static and moving obstacles. Our algorithms use a diverse suite of technologies for object detection. Using this system, our drone can identify a static object in its path, like a chimney.

“It can also detect moving objects on the horizon, like other aircraft, even when it’s hard for people to see them. If obstacles are identified, our drone will automatically change course to safely avoid them. As our drone descends to deliver the package into a customer’s backyard, it ensures that there’s a small area around the delivery location that’s clear of any people, animals, or other obstacles.

“We’ve worked closely with the FAA and other regulators throughout. Prime Air is one of only three drone-delivery companies that has gone through the rigorous process to earn a FAA air carrier certificate, which will be required to operate drones using these advanced capabilities.”

Once they go past the regulatory process and have their ecosystem onboarded, Amazon said their customers in Lockeford will then be able to see items on display that are eligible to be delivered via the Prime Air drones. They will place an order as they normally would and receive an estimated arrival time with a status tracker for their order.

For these deliveries, the drone will fly to the designated delivery location, descend to the customer’s backyard, and hover at a safe height. It will then safely release the package, before climbing back up to altitude.

“Lockeford residents will soon have access to one of the world’s leading delivery innovations,” said California State Assemblyman Heath Flora, whose district includes Lockeford. “It’s exciting that Amazon will be listening to the feedback of the San Joaquin County community to inform the future development of this technology.”


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