Amazon has long been a leader in innovation. The eCommerce giant mainstreamed the act of buying and selling goods online, but that was only the beginning of their streak of innovation. They also redefined the way people read and buy books with the Kindle e-reader, pushed 21st-century homes into a new era of automation with the Amazon Echo, and they’ve even gotten involved in streaming music services and television series production.
CEO Jeff Bezos is determined to keep Amazon on the leading edge of innovation, and he’s received plenty of recognition as a result. Just this year, Fast Company gave Amazon the top position on its list of Most Innovative Companies.
If you’ve been following the headlines, you’ve probably noticed that Amazon is also breaking ground in terms of drone delivery services. The company has made no secret of its intention to offer fast drone delivery for select products to its Amazon Prime customers. And over the past few months, they’ve successfully carried out proof-of-concept demonstrations in the UK and the US.
Needless to say, this is a particular area of interest to the team at Altitude Imagery. We love seeing the new and innovative ways that drones are being put to work – from aerial Imaging to pizza delivery. And we know that our readers are interested in the same. That’s why we thought we would dedicate a post to further exploring Amazon’s plans for drone delivery in the near future.
What Is Amazon Prime Air?
Amazon has been talking about and preparing for its Prime Air service for several years now. The company describes this service simply as a delivery system designed to safely get package to customers in 30 minutes or less using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) – aka drones.
This would be an add-on service to Amazon’s traditional model, which makes use of various couriers and parcel delivery services in the areas where it operates. When it comes to delivering purchases by drone, there would be three major limitations:
1. Distance from the Amazon warehouse
2. Weight of the object being delivered
3. Local air-safety regulations governing the use of UAV
At this stage of the game, drones can only be in the air for a short period of time. The delivery destination must be close enough to the warehouse so that the drone can make a round trip with enough reserve power to navigate complications or unexpected circumstances.
Furthermore, the batteries used to power drones are relatively heavy. The more power they supply, the heavier they must be, meaning that drone developers have to find the optimal intersection between battery life and overall weight of the battery. The heavier the battery is, the less additional weight the drone can carry. This is obviously an issue of concern for any company hoping to deliver physical products by drone.
Finally, drone use is governed by relevant air-safety regulations. Many countries have expressed openness to such a service model, but there is still a great deal of red tape to contend with. As the company aggressively moves forward to roll out its Prime Air service, some jurisdictions are working alongside the retailer to regulate drone delivery and make it a viable service.
Two Trial Runs Prove Amazon’s Drone Delivery Model Works
In December of last year, Amazon officially began offering drone delivery in the UK. Originally, the service was exclusively available to two customers in Cambridge. These two customers were chosen due to their proximity to their warehouse and the fact that both have large gardens where a drone could land.
The original delivery was relatively mundane – an Amazon Fire TV stick and a bag of popcorn – but it proved that this particular service model is viable. The UK was chosen for this original trial because local regulators have granted the company several special permissions.
In the US, regulations are still much tighter. However, the company recently completed its first test of Amazon Prime Air on US soil. The trial took place at a conference in Palm Springs, California and was possible because the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) granted them special permission. At this point, it’s still not legal to deliver packages by drone in the US, but this trial run proves that it could work. Hopefully, FAA regulations will be adjusted in the near future to make this possible.
What to Expect from Amazon’s Future Drone Services
As regulatory bodies give the green light to drone delivery services, you can expect to see more UAVs carrying merchandise and emblazoned with the Amazon insignia. Here are a few things to keep in line as these services go online:
• Drone delivery will be a premium (i.e. costly) service reserved for last-minute orders and retail-related emergencies.
• There will likely be several different drone types, depending on the environment in which they operate and the weight and dimensions of the package they carry.
• Ordering from Amazon Prime Air will require you to place a branded landing pad in your garden. The drone recognises and hones in on this landing pad to deliver its payload.
• Delivery to apartment blocks and other tight-quartered domiciles will be difficult – if not impossible – for the time being.
• The drones are equipped with obstacle-avoidance technology, which means they’ll be able to dodge pigeons and other obstacles while in flight.
• Customers will enjoy much more accurate delivery windows, as Amazon will tell you when the drone takes off – at which point you’ll have less than 30 minutes to wait.
Amazon has proven that delivery by drone is possible under certain circumstances, but it’s still going to be a while before this method of delivery becomes mainstream. The regulations still have a long way to go to catch up.
In the meantime, we’ll continue watching stories like this to keep our readers abreast of the latest developments in drone technology and related services. Fortunately, current regulations allow us to do a great deal in terms of Drone Services. On that note, if you would like to put our aerial photography drones to work for you in Western Australia, please get in touch with us via our contact page or by dialling 08 9240 7313.