Amazon will officially make drone delivery available to residents in Lockeford, California, and College Station, Texas before the end of the year as it begins to test the real-world applicability of the service.
Amazon’s promise of drone delivery has often felt like science fiction. But after 10 years of developing the system, the digital retailer says it’s finally ready to start air-dropping packages. The company has built electric drones that can deliver items under five pounds to customers in less than an hour, from click to delivery. And residents in Lockeford, California, and College Station, Texas will be among the first to receive Prime Air deliveries later this year.
Dubbed the MK27-2, the Amazon drone delivery system will drop packages from 12 feet in the air. If the drone encounters another aircraft while flying, it will go around it. And if a pet runs underneath the drop zone when it gets to the delivery location, the item won’t be delivered. Speaking to CNBC, Calsee Hendrickson, who leads Product and Program Management for Prime Air, also addressed residents’ concerns about privacy and safety.
“We like to refer to the Amazon drone delivery as being independently safe, which means that it has the power to make the decision,” Hendrickson told the publication. “It saw something that had a heat signature underneath the drone and was able to not deliver a package and returned to the station. But the drones do have an operator in command that is overseeing the entire airspace,” she added.
The MK27-2 is about five and a half feet in diameter and weighs 80 pounds. Each shoebox-sized Amazon drone delivery is loaded into the back and secured inside. The drone then takes off vertically using six propellers. Once in the air, the device rotates into a forward position and the hexagon surrounding the drone serves as its wings. Hendrickson said it flies at about 50 miles per hour.
Once the Amazon drone delivery reaches its location, it descends vertically and scans the area to make sure it’s clear. The box is then dropped in an area pre-approved by the customer. While the system is limited to small packages, the company says there are thousands of items eligible for air delivery. Due to the retailer’s special packaging, the integrity of products delivered by drone won’t be compromised.
As part of Amazon’s drone delivery announcement, the digital retailer also revealed its next aerial device. Known as the MK30, the new drone will be 25% less noisy than its predecessor. It also boasts an increased range, expanded temperature tolerance, and improved safety-critical features. The device is also designed to fly in light rain so customers can choose drone delivery more often. The MK30 will officially take to the skies in 2024.
Addressing safety concerns about Amazon drone delivery in a press release, the company said its drones can encounter new, unexpected situations and still make safe decisions autonomously. “We’ve created a sophisticated and industry-leading sense-and-avoid system that will allow our drones to operate at greater distances while safely and reliably avoiding other aircraft, people, pets, and obstacles,” the retailer explained.
Additionally, every Amazon drone delivery system goes through rigorous evaluation by national aerospace authorities like the Federal Aviation Administration to prove its safety and reliability.