How it Works: Amazon Delivery Drones

Amazon Prime Air preparing for launch

Amazon Prime Air delivery drone on landing pad in a field.
Amazon Prime Air Delivery Drone. Amazon.com

Amazon’s ambitious Prime Air program aims to use delivery drones to deliver your Amazon order within 30 minutes or less. Recent trials and on-going development have Amazon poised to bring this science fiction delivery concept into reality.

Amazon Delivery Drones: What are They?

Amazon’s delivery drones are also known as unmanned aerial vehicles. Amazon’s vision for the drones are a fleet of vehicles equipped with self-operating technology, similar to self-driving cars, where the drones have the capability to run independent of a human “pilot.” Automated collision avoidance technology will allow the drones to avoid crashing into objects or animals while in flight, such as buildings, light poles, electric lines, and birds to safely deliver your package faster than ever.

The drones will be able to deliver packages weighing 5 lbs. or less within 30 minutes or less. Amazon’s on-going testing includes several different drone models and types, so the final look and design continues to evolve over time. Current testing is restricted to daytime operations when visibility is good and winds are low. Future testing for delivery in icy, rainy, and snowy conditions may result in different drone designs for different types of weather conditions.

Why is Amazon Developing Delivery Drones?

When Amazon announced the Prime Air project in 2013, skeptics and critics widely panned the idea. While Amazon has faced obstacles, including difficult relations with the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) over regulations, they have proceeded undeterred. What's fueling Amazon’s fire for this drone program? Aside from generally being an ambitious innovator, the company views the delivery drones as an opportunity to not only increase speed of delivery for customers but also increase the safety and efficiency of the overall transportation system by reducing road traffic.

When Will Amazon Prime Air Be Available?

Amazon hasn’t provided an official launch date for the Amazon Prime Air drone delivery program. However, with Prime Air development centers in the U.S., France, Austria, United Kingdom, and Israel, the program is closer to launch than ever. Private trials in the UK have shifted the concept from sci-fi fantasy to an emerging technology to watch.

Customers who live close to an Amazon warehouse or Amazon fulfillment center will likely be among the first to benefit from the program due to the goal of delivering within 30 minutes. Another consideration is how to get packages to your doorstep. Customers in rural areas with room for drones to land or hover to drop packages are easier to deliver to than customers living in more congested urban areas. For city-dwelling customers, one potential solution is using parachutes to help drones drop packages in more densely populated areas.

Amazon envisions the drone delivery service being an exclusive benefit for Amazon Prime members, when it does launch. Amazon’s UK trial, continued refining of drone design and technology, and Amazon’s submission of airspace proposals for drone operation in the U.S. and other countries has largely silenced the skeptics. Industry insiders predict Amazon could be ready to launch Prime Air in select areas by 2020. While Jeff Bezos and crew have remained mum on such predictions, they’re already delivering a new vision of the very near future.