Amazon drone delivery has long seemed a pipe dream—talked about, yearned for, but at its heart, a far-fetched possibility. Now, it’s seems the dream of instant, from-the-heavens deliveries may be a little bit closer to reality.
The megalith online retailer recently wrapped up its first public demo of its drone delivery service—dubbed Amazon Prime Air—at the MARS 2017 Conference in Palm Springs, California.
Though it was only that—a demo of how the drones would operate—it did give hope to the masses of Prime members itching for fast, free deliveries flying in from above. And while the service isn’t quite available yet for Amazon purchases, the details of the Prime Air program are out there—and they’re pretty darn exciting.
How Amazon Prime Air Would Work
According to a promo advertising the program, drone delivery will work just like any other Amazon shipment. The order will be picked from the warehouse, put on an assembly line, and boxed up. Then, instead of heading to the back of a delivery truck, a drone will step in, pick up the shipment, and take to the skies.
Once in the air, the buyer will get a notification on their phone, tablet or other device, and a timer will count down to their delivery.
They’ll know exactly when their purchase leaves the warehouse, when it approaches, and when it lands.
(That’s a welcome reprieve from the lengthy delivery windows that leave customers waiting by the door for hours on end.)
The drones will also have what Amazon dubs “sense-and-avoid” technology, which will ensure they don’t hit birds, trees or other obstacles along the way, and they’ll reach speeds of up to 60 miles per hour, so most deliveries can be done in 30 minutes or less.
Who Can Use Amazon Prime Air?
Amazon Prime Air will likely be a game-changer for online shoppers—at least those located in certain areas.
As of now, the program’s drones have a maximum flight range of 15 miles, which means they can’t go more than 7.5 miles to the destination and 7.5 miles back.
Basically, it means the buyer must be located within about 7 miles of an Amazon distribution center. Seeing as only 24 states have distribution centers—most of those located on the coasts—this puts quite a cap on who can use drone delivery.
The drones will also need plenty of space to land, so if you’re in an apartment building or tight urban area, it’s probably not going to happen.
In fact, Amazon Prime Air deliveries are said to require Amazon-branded mats; the buyer lays them out in the yard or on some other controlled, flat area, and the drone uses it as a homing device to guide a safe and secure landing.
They’re not huge, but they still need a few feet of space around the edges; Amazon’s boxy drones aren’t the smallest of devices.
When to Use Amazon Prime Air vs. Traditional Amazon Shipping
Though Prime Air is going to offer serious convenience, it’s still intended to be a last resort when it comes to Amazon shipping methods. Even for shoppers who are within range, it’s best used for emergencies and time-crunch purchases—not for every Amazon order you make.
For those not-so-urgent purchases, there are still plenty of other Amazon shipping methods, like same-day delivery or Prime Now, which offers free two-hour deliveries on certain products in certain areas.
Shoppers in some cities even have access to one-hour shipping on occasion which, until Prime Air’s launch, can be just as fast and convenient.
When Will Amazon Prime Air Take Off?
Despite the release of Amazon’s official promo video and the recent drone demo, there’s still no official launch date for Amazon Prime Air. Internally, Amazon says it still needs to demonstrate that the drones can be operated safely.
Externally, the company has to wait on the FAA to change its unmanned aerial vehicle regulations, which say small drones can’t fly beyond the “line of sight” of their operators—usually a max of around 10 miles.
Until those little hiccups can be sorted out, stay strong, Amazon Primers. At least you’ve still got that free two-day shipping in your cart!
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