Will Amazon Be First To Launch Drone Delivery?

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Amazon wants to expand on it business venture to include their own delivery system. Their desire to take over more of their own supply chain is the skyrocketing shipping costs, and their customers request for speedy delivery. With their shipping costs rising over 40% in their third quarter last year, they are looking to launch Amazon Prime Air- a drone delivery service.

From a rural corner in England, Amazon.com drone delivery system had a successful launch. The drone carried popcorn and a Fire TV video several miles to a farmhouse in Cambridge, UK. The trip took the drone 13 minutes and marked the start of what Amazon hopes to become their new delivery system. They have taken on challenges of skepticism and regulatory hurdles, but are seeing the possibility of their 30-minute drone delivery system.

Amazon’s Long-Term Plan

Amazon’s long-term plan is to develop a transportation system of their own, so they have more control over deliveries. Their hope is to one day compete with current distribution giants, UPS and FedEx. Rural areas will be a challenge for most deliveries as it costs more where destinations are more spread out. Drone deliveries will be more efficient in these regions, and they are making the safest areas for testing. The concept for drone delivery is an exciting and logistical concept in the countryside, says a transportation consultant with FedEx. It is not a very viable system for an urban environment, though. The expert sees delivering tractor parts or medicine to rural areas seems like a good idea, but he can’t see making deliveries of any kind to downtown Manhattan with a drone.

Challenges for Drone Delivery

There are other problems facing drone deliveries. Drones can lose power while they are flying, or they could break down. Their flight path could lead them into trees or people which would cause them to crash. They also face the danger of being shot down by people on the ground or their software being hacked. They also can only fly about a dozen miles with their battery power. Even with these many challenges, Amazon did make its first residential delivery in their first major test to get their product straight to the customer.

Competition for Drone Deliveries

Amazon is not alone in attempting to create a drone delivery system. Alphabet Inc.’s Google created a delivery drone in 2012 but is struggling with its design. Another company, Flirtey Inc. in New Zealand began a Domino’s Pizza delivery service using drones in a small test, and in the United States, UPS kicked off a commercial drone delivery test for items like medicine. In Israel, Flytrex just raised $3 million to begin production of its drone delivery system. They started with the concept of creating a ‘black-box’ style flight recorder for drones so deliveries can be tracked. Regulators of the drone concept all have different concerns from traffic control to safety, but they are waking up and seeing drone deliveries as something that is going to come.

Where to Find Amazon Prime Air

Amazon has started on a very small scale to launch its Prime Air delivery using drones. They currently have two shoppers in the U.K. who are allowed to order their items and request drone delivery. Amazon does plan to expand from these two customers to a few dozen, and hopefully, build the base up to hundreds. These customers would all have to live within a few miles of the fulfillment center in Cambridge, U.K. The drones are loaded in the center and then roll out on rails where they take off from. The flights, including the landing, are intended to have deliveries completed within 30 minutes. At this point, current customers on the drone delivery list can order seven days a week, but only when it is daylight and weather conditions permit drone flying.

Testing Other Delivery Locations

Prime Air is testing other locations for possible delivery destinations around the world. Austria is one location they have set up scientists to figure out computer vision-based sense-and-avoid technologies. The latest models of their drones debuted with Top Gear/Grand Tour star, Jeremy Clarkson helping them in 2015 during the Thanksgiving holiday ordering rush. It was a small test but it showed how serious Amazon is about expanding their service. The drone service is possible in the U.K. as they received permission to operate there beyond line-of-sight flights. They passed a series of safety tests to receive this approval and it only extends to rural areas, no urban areas.

The Future of Drone Delivery

Prime Air is facing limitations such as regulators around the world have still not finalized the safety regulations that will need to be in place. These regulations may impact the financial feasibility of Amazon continuing with their drone plans. Another limitation is how far a drone can travel meaning Amazon will have to place logistics buildings strategically around the world to accommodate their orders. There are also weight restrictions on how much a drone can carry. With the weight limit of five pounds, this makes many of what Amazon sells undeliverable with this type of service. While a lot of progress has been made by Prime Air to launch this new service, there are many more tests and much more data needed to know if Amazon will be the first to launch drone delivery successfully.