Amazon’s long-awaited drone delivery ambitions appear to finally be coming to fruition. Customers in Lockeford, Calif., will be able to receive Prime Air-eligible products via drone later this year, the e-commerce giant announced in a blog post Monday.
The news comes weeks after Walmart announced an expanded drone delivery service powered by third-party operator DroneUp now serving 34 locations, which could reach as many as 4 million households across Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Texas, Utah and Virginia.
Amazon said Prime Air consumers 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 what the company calls a “safe” height. (Amazon did not reveal the actual height). The drone will then release the package and rise back up to altitude.
“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. When flying to the delivery location, the drones need to be able to identify static and moving obstacles,” Amazon said. “Our algorithms use a diverse suite of technologies for object detection. Using this system, our drone can identify a static object in its path, like a chimney. It can also detect moving objects on the horizon, like other aircraft, even when it’s hard for people to see them.”
The drone will automatically change course to safely avoid identified obstacles, Amazon said. A drone descending into a backyard will examine the small area around the delivery location to ensure it’s free of people, animals or other obstacles.
There is still some red tape between Amazon and Prime Air’s official drone delivery launch. The company said it is working both with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and local officials in Lockeford to obtain permission to conduct drone deliveries and will continue with that collaboration into the future.
In August 2020, the FAA first gave Amazon the go-ahead to conduct testing, awarding the company a “Part 135” air carrier certificate to operate unmanned aircraft systems (UAS). This officially enabled the e-commerce giant to operate its delivery drone fleets as part of its Prime Air service. Tests were conducted close to its Seattle headquarters in the U.S. Pacific Northwest and in the Vancouver area.
Prime Air is one of only three drone delivery companies, including Google’s Wing Aviation and UPS Flight Forward, that have gone through the required process to earn an FAA air carrier certificate. These pilots are different from the what Walmart is doing, allowing certified pilots to fly the drones remotely from select hubs.
Lockeford residents will be able to give feedback about Prime Air to help Amazon more safely scale the program.
Report says Amazon willing to divulge data to escape EU fine
Amazon is also contending with more antitrust issues overseas.
Long criticized for its reported abuse of third-party seller data, the e-commerce giant is allegedly looking to share marketplace data with these sellers in an effort to kill the European Union’s investigation into its business practices.
A report from Reuters indicated that Amazon offered to grant sellers access to some marketplace data, while also conceding that its commercial business would not be able to use the seller data collected by its retail unit.
The Seattle-based retail giant could face a fine that would amount to 10 percent of total global annual sales to close the investigation, which would likely conclude by the end of the year. Reuters first reported in November 2021 that Amazon had engaged in “preliminary discussions” to settle the investigation and reduce or eliminate the fines.
Amazon declined to comment.
In 2020, the European Commission accused Amazon of pushing its own products to gain an unfair advantage over rival merchants that sell on its online platform. It also opened an investigation into Amazon’s possible preferential treatment of its own retail offers and those of marketplace sellers that use its logistics and delivery services.
The allegations mirror the top criticisms consumers, sellers and politicians have had with the tech titan, leading to a series of global antitrust battles.
While the U.S. Department of Justice has never officially filed suit against Amazon for violating antitrust policy, Congressional representatives have called for such action after a 16-month investigation into policies at Big Tech firms including Apple, Facebook and Google. Multiple bills have been drawn up, with the bipartisan legislation in question coming from both the House of Representatives and more recently, the Senate.
In March, Amazon won a dismissal against Washington D.C. attorney general Karl Racine, who alleged that the online marketplace was illegally building monopoly power via its pricing agreements with sellers. Karl argued that the agreements artificially raised prices for consumers and deprived them of choice.
Elsewhere in Europe, antitrust watchdogs in the U.K., Germany and Spain have engaged in ongoing probes against “The Everything Store,” while Italy’s top competition authority fined the company $1.3 billion.
And the Indian government’s ongoing investigation into Amazon’s business practices concluded that accusations are based in fact.
Reuters extensively investigated Amazon’s alleged attempts to skirt Indian e-commerce regulations, saying that it gave preferential treatment to a small group of sellers on its marketplace, including two that it owned in joint ventures. Another report cited internal documents and strategy plans indicating that Amazon creates its own private-label products and manipulates search results to boost its own products in the market.
Amazon has denied any wrongdoing in its Indian operations.
Back in the E.U., Amazon’s process for choosing which retailer appears in the “buy box” on its website that generates the bulk of its sales also came under the spotlight. Reuters said that Amazon would also create a second buy box for rival products in the event an Amazon product appears in the first buy box.
The E.U. competition enforcer is expected to seek feedback from Amazon’s competitors and consumers in the coming weeks, which could lead to tweaks in the proposal and a final decision by the end of the year, the report said.