Amazon has chosen a sleepy town of 3,200 people to launch one of its most anticipated services: Prime Air drone deliveries. The milestone has even been added to the Wikipedia entry for Lockeford, a small community in northern California that will witness the latest step towards an automated future. “As we launch the service in Lockeford, we’ll also be investing in the community, creating new jobs, building partnerships with local organizations, and helping reduce carbon emissions,” Amazon reported on its company blog on Monday.
The blog stated that the company is working with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to obtain the permits needed to make deliveries with remote-controlled drones. Only three logistics companies in the United States have started the process with the air regulator. For nearly 10 years, Amazon – which is owned by Jeff Bezos – has been working with scientists, engineers, professionals in the aerospace industry and futurists to make this project a reality. In the blog, Amazon does not specify when Prime Air will launch in Lockeford, promising instead to “share photos and videos of our progress as we go.”
Lockeford residents will find a selection of products that are eligible for Prime Air on Amazon. Once purchased, they will receive an estimated arrival time with a status tracker for their order. “For these deliveries, the drone will fly to the designated delivery location, descend to the customer’s backyard, and hover at a safe height. It will then safely release the package and rise back up to altitude,” the company explained.
The devices that will be used are no ordinary drones. According to Amazon, they have developed “sophisticated and industry-leading” devices that can avoid obstacles such as other aircraft, chimneys, people and or pets thanks to a series of sensors that allow the drones to visualize their surroundings in long-distance trajectories. “We designed our sense-and-avoid system for two main scenarios: to be safe when in transit, and to be safe when approaching the ground,” Amazon reported. “If obstacles are identified, our drone will automatically change course to safely avoid them.”
It is not known why the small town 60 kilometers (37 miles) south of Sacramento, the capital of California, was chosen for the launch of Prime Air. In its blog, Amazon only mentions Lockeford’s “historical links” to the aviation industry. The town was founded in 1851 by two brothers who left Boston in search of a better life. They reached Lockeford, where they built a cabin, but they were unable to live in it due to the large number of bears. A short time later, they built a fort that gave the community its name. At the end of the 19th century, a local resident, Weldon Cooke, began to experiment with building and flying airplanes. More than a century later, residents will have the opportunity to sign up for free air delivery of thousands of everyday products.
But while Amazon is optimistic about the project, it remains to be seen whether it will be able to fulfill its longstanding dream. The company first began to reveal its plans for Prime Air back in 2016. The first tests were done in the United Kingdom, which was chosen for the launch of the service. Executives boasted that drone deliveries would be a reality before long. They offered tours of the laboratories that were designing the machines and opened a huge office in Cambridge. And in a viral video, Amazon promised that drone deliveries were no longer science fiction. But workers at these labs had a different impression. In interviews with tech magazine Wired, they described a chaotic work environment, where there was high employee turnover and no project leadership. Wired claimed that more than 100 workers had been laid off from the Cambridge office, while others were relocated to Costa Rica. In 2019, the project got back on course, and now aims to finally show that Amazon is ready to take flight.