Credit: Amazon

Amazon to Begin Drone Deliveries this Year

Prime Air delivery drones will fulfill online orders in customers' backyards later this year. Learn where the first Prime Air packages will take flight and how the technology was developed.
Jamie Grill-Goodman
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Amazon's MK21 design. Credit: Amazon.

Amazon customers living in Lockeford, CA, will become among the first to receive Amazon package deliveries via drone later this year, the retailer said Monday.

The area’s residents will get the first chance to sign up for free drone delivery on thousands of items. Through Prime Air deliveries, Drones will deliver packages in eligible customers' backyards.

Amazon said Lockeford residents will “play an important role in defining the future,” as their feedback about Prime Air will help Amazon create "a service that will safely scale to meet the needs of customers everywhere."

Amazon is working with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and local officials in Lockeford to obtain permission to conduct these deliveries and will continue with that collaboration into the future, it said. 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. Since the inception of Prime Air, Amazon said it has created more than two dozen prototypes. 

Amazon's latest design, the MK27-2. Credit: Amazon

How Prime Air Works

Amazon began contacting customers in Lockeford to ask them to opt in to drone delivery, Amazon spokesperson Av Zammit told CBS News. Once a customer enrolls, an Amazon employee will visit to make sure their yard has enough clear space to accept drone deliveries, Zammit added.

Once onboarded, customers in Lockeford will see Prime Air-eligible items on Amazon. 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 and rise back up to altitude.

Amazon's first design that demonstrated the concept of fulfilling customer orders via drone. Credit: Amazon

Developing Prime Air

Amazon has been working for almost a decade to make drone deliveries a reality, it said. The retailer noted it has created a “sense-and-avoid system” that will enable operations without visual observers and allow its drone to operate at greater distances, while avoiding other aircraft, people, pets, and obstacles.

Amazon developed the sense-and-avoid system to be safe both in transit and when approaching the ground.

“When flying to the delivery location, the drones need to be able to identify static and moving obstacles,” the retailer said.  “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, the drone ensures that there’s a small area around the delivery location that’s clear of any people, animals, or other obstacles.”

“The Prime Air drones are autonomous,” explained Amazon senior software engineer Heidi Schubert.  “To fly safely, they need some ground station support. What we do is essentially build a map of the area and use it to plan a detailed route that helps the drone get to its destination safely.”

Amazon said, as it tests the service in Lockeford, it will be investing in the community, creating new jobs, building partnerships with local organizations, and helping reduce carbon emissions.

"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."