[Pictured above: The MK27-2—Amazon's latest delivery drone.]
Given its mega imprint over just about everything regarding retail, it has been surprising that Amazon can't seem to get its much-promised drone-delivery system off the ground.
Back in 2013, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos pledged to fill the skies with delivery drones within five years. In 2019, the company said it would be serving customers via drone deliveries "within months."
Knives out, some consumers have insinuated the regular (broken) promises of drone deliveries were simply headline grabbers to promote Amazon services such as Prime
But the time may be now. Finally.
Well, if you happen to live in a few Northern California farming communities.
According to Amazon spokesperson Av Zammit, residents of San Joaquin County towns Lockeford and Acampo—and some parts of Lodi—soon will be able to order goods online and expect a drone to drop off their packages in less than an hour.
There's yet another caveat, however. Don't expect to see a space heater or a widescreen TV hovering over your lawn. Amazon Prime Air drones can only carry packages weighing five pounds or less. Also, your order will need to fit into a shoe-box-sized container.
What this means for the initial drone deliveries is the orders that will be served will be items suuch as cosmetics, toiletries, office supplies, batteries, and small household products.
Wait. There's more. Although Amazon Prime Air received certification to commercially fly cargo in 2020, it is still seeking approval from the Federal Aviation Administration and county officials for its plans in San Joaquin County. So, while the company is building a drone-delivery facility in Lockeford, it appears a cranky county official could still tank the deal—though, admittedly, there's not much of a chance that will happen
Public safety may be more of an issue for the Northern California fleet, as Business Insider has reported approximately eight Amazon drones have crashed during tests.
However, Amazon’s latest model is a hexagonal, propeller-driven aircraft with a sense-and-avoid system, which uses an algorithm to avoid hitting other aircraft, chimneys, people, and other potential obstacles.
To receive deliveries, customers will need to identify a suitable landing area with an Amazon employee. At that location, the customer will place a "homing marker" and the drone will drop its package at the site from a height of approximately two to three yards from the ground.
Amazon chose Lockeford as its first step because the area has lots of open space, low-density housing, and a population of just 3,500 people. The area is filled mostly with horse and cattle ranches, orchards, and vineyards.
While the relatively wide-open spaces seem viable for testing drone-delivery systems, Rindy Crawford—a manager at Ace Hardware in Lockeford—was still somewhat shocked that her community was chosen for Amazon's long-delayed drone deliveries.
“We have one grocery store, two gas stations, and a hardware store," said Crawford. "It's not like we’re Stockton or Lodi or the Bay Area.”
Amazon said it would solicit feedback from the community and would offer jobs at its new facility.