Does Amazon Use Drones to Deliver Packages? How Will They Work?

More and more people are asking: does amazon use drones to deliver packages? Amazon has worked considerably to speed up its shipping services. It has come up algorithms that can anticipate your orders, uber-efficient robots that pick up items from the warehouse and even a facility to deliver your order after only a few hours (Prime Now).


Does Amazon Use Drones to Deliver Packages?

Prime Now however only works if you live close to an Amazon warehouse and is reliant on delivery trucks to deliver the order. The number of people who are able to avail this service is limited, as a result as well as the selection of products i.e. available to prospective buyers.

Amazon’s drone delivery service can help immensely here. The project, dubbed Prime Air, was first introduced in 2013, to a lot of skepticism. It is not ready for launch quite yet but is gradually getting there with every passing month.

Getting Amazon drones in action will require a lot of work, the first of which is persuading the FAA to allow these drones to enter the air space.

The second possible hurdle will be to ensure that these deliveries reach their recipients. It is true that Amazon has established a commendable network of fulfillment centers all over the US, but they are located only in 24 states – mostly along the coast. Amazon has recently patented “airborne fulfillment centers” to remedy this. These centers will essentially be warehouses that will also work as drone airports.

For Amazon to start its drone delivery services, it will also need to figure out where to keep its drones when not in use. The company has suggested the use of streetlights, cell towers and other high-lofted objects as possible “docking stations”.

In 2014, Amazon laid the groundwork for drone delivery despite the initial skepticism it faced in 2013. By April, 2014 it was already testing technologies for the service and by July it had approached the FAA about testing these drones outside. When the FAA ignored Amazon’s requests, Bezos and co. sent a second letter to them threatening to test Prime Air overseas. It followed through on its threats by establishing a new R&D center in the United Kingdom.

The FAA established new drone regulations in February 2015 which came as a blow in the face of Amazon. It specifically stated that UAVs must be operated within the sight of the pilot and must not fly over people who have no connection with the drone’s operation.

drone delivery

However, in March 2015, the FAA decided to allow drone testing with stringent restrictions. In Summer 2015, Amazon came up with guidelines on where drones should fly and later debuted a new drone design which had a longer range (about 15m) and better technology which helped the drones avoid ground and air-based collisions automatically.

Amazon continued to work on collision avoidance technologies and noise reduction through the rest of 2015 and in 2016.

Summer of 2016 came bearing good news. The US regulatory agencies drafted new rules that allowed commercial enterprises to operate drones without undergoing lengthy authorization processes. These rules still had strict restrictions such as the rule requiring the drone to be flown in the line of sight of the pilot but came as a major breakthrough for Amazon. A couple days later, the line-of-sight rule was eliminated as well. Amazon’s drone delivery efforts had never seemed more possible.

The first proof-of-concept flight of Prime Air took place in December 2016. A package was drone-delivered to a customer in Cambridge, England. In fact, most of the work on Prime Air has happened from end-2016. The favorable regulatory environment in UK has allowed for gradual expansion in the area.

Amazon sought authorization to experiment with wireless communication in January 2017 in relation to control of its drone fleet. A surprise cameo of Prime Air was unveiled in February during one of Amazon's Super Bowl commercials. Plans for a cargo hub at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky airport in Hebron, Kentucky were also revealed. It may not be in direct relation to the company's drone delivery effort but is an indication of movement by Amazon to control every part of the delivery process. They may no longer use the services of delivery companies like USPS, UPS or FedEx in the near future.

drone deliveries may become a reality

Drone deliveries may become a reality

Drone deliveries may become a reality soon enough as the White House has been pressurizing the FAA since last year to work with companies to make the technology available for use. Federal officials have reassured drone proponents of their help. The US has been lagging behind other companies when it comes to commercial drone applications.

Google, Zipline and Amazon have moved their testing operations to countries like the UK, Australia and Rwanda where the legal framework is more lenient and enabling. The White House launched the UAS Integration Pilot Program in late 2017 to speed up commercial drone applications in the US.

The FAA, drone proponents, state and federal law enforcement agencies will have to work in cohesion to work out security concerns and tackle legislative and regulatory restrictions. Vice President of Amazon's drone delivery system - Prime Air, Gur Kimchi expressed hope for necessary approvals to be in place by 2019. 

The FAA is currently processing applications sent in by drone proponents. They have said that they will provide the companies with exemptions and waivers needed for overcoming the manned aircraft rules that were devised long before drones were in the picture. The large-scale implementation of unmanned vehicles in the national airspace forms the biggest challenge for companies that intend to use drones for deliveries.

 Federal authorities are working with drone proponents and other involved parties towards overcoming these obstacles. The FAA has been trying to curb concerns raised by local and national law enforcement agencies that drones will create noise and increase privacy and security fears. 

They want to start using drones for "limited package deliveries" in the coming months and have been diligently working with tech giants and aerospace companies to draft proposals, rework regulations and address safety concerns so that drones can be used for delivery as soon as possible.