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 northern California community that will witness the final step toward an automated future. “As we launch the service in Lockeford, we will also invest in the community, create new jobs, partner with local organizations and help reduce carbon emissions,” Amazon reported Monday on its corporate blog.
The blog says the company is working with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to obtain the necessary permits 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 – owned by Jeff Bezos – has been working with scientists, engineers, aerospace industry professionals and futurists to make this project a reality. In the blog post, Amazon doesn’t say when Prime Air will launch in Lockeford, instead promising to “share photos and videos of our progress as we go.”
Lockeford residents will find a selection of Prime Air-eligible products on Amazon. Once purchased, they will receive an estimated arrival time with tracking of their order status. “For these deliveries, the drone will fly to the designated delivery location, descend into the customer’s yard and hover at a safe height. It will then safely release the package and ascend to altitude,” the company explained.
The devices that will be used are not ordinary drones. According to Amazon, they have developed “sophisticated and industry-leading” devices that can avoid obstacles such as other planes, smokestacks, people and/or pets through a series of sensors that allow drones to visualize their environment in long-distance trajectories. “We designed our sense-and-avoidance system for two primary scenarios: being safe while in transit and being safe approaching the ground,” Amazon reported. “If obstacles are identified, our drone will automatically change course to safely avoid them.”
It’s unclear why the small town 60 kilometers (37 miles) south of Sacramento, California’s capital, was chosen for the launch of Prime Air. In its blog, Amazon only mentions Lockeford’s “historic ties” to the aviation industry. The city 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 were unable to live there due to the large number of bears. Shortly after, they built a fort which gave its name to the community. In the late 19th century, a local resident, Weldon Cooke, began experimenting with building and flying airplanes. More than a century later, locals will be able 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 long-held dream. The company started revealing its plans for Prime Air in 2016. The first tests were carried out in the UK, which was chosen for the launch of the service. Leaders boasted that drone deliveries would be a reality before long. They offered tours of the labs that designed the machines and opened a huge office in Cambridge. And in a viral video, Amazon promised drone deliveries were no longer science fiction. But the workers in these labs had a different impression. In interviews with tech magazine Wiredthey described a chaotic work environment, where there was high staff turnover and no project manager. Wired claimed that more than 100 workers had been fired from the Cambridge office, while others had been transferred to Costa Rica. In 2019, the project resumed its course, and now aims to finally show that Amazon is ready to take off.