Despite running into obstacles in the US, Amazon is planning to expand its Prime Air drone delivery program to two additional countries. Amazon announced today that it will soon make drone delivery available for Prime members in Italy and the United Kingdom — in addition to expanding to one more yet-to-be-named US city. The new Prime Air locations will be announced in the coming months, with an anticipated launch date of late 2024.
The e-commerce giant stated that it is working with regulators and governments around the world to expand drone delivery.
“Not only will this help boost the economy, offering consumers even more choice while helping keep the environment clean with zero emission technology, but it will also build our understanding how to best use the new technology safely and securely,” said UK’s Aviation Minister Baroness Vere in a statement in Amazon’s announcement.
Amazon first promised 30-minute drone deliveries for Prime members way back in 2013, and the program has encountered nothing but hurdles. The company at present only offers Prime Air delivery in two locations: College Station, Texas, and Lockeford, California. Currently, Amazon’s drones are unable to deliver during rainstorms, strong winds, extreme heat, or any unfavorable weather — and only operate from 8AM to 3:30PM every day. Current FAA restrictions also keep Prime Air from flying its drones over people or roads, which leads to Amazon’s next challenge. In order to gain approval from the FAA for a broader rollout in the US, Prime Air must dock hundreds of hours of incident-free flights. But, given the fact that Prime Air currently operates in limited circumstances, it has had trouble meeting the agency’s requirements. Back in May of this year, Prime Air had only made 100 deliveries, reported CNBC.
But it’s made some progress since then. Prime Air has signed up “thousands of customers” and delivered “thousands” of packages so far, wrote Amazon spokesperson Zoë Hoffmann in an e-mail to The Verge.
Another step by Amazon today suggests it’s ready to make drones a more serious part of its actual delivery network. The company said it plans to add Prime Air delivery to its existing fulfillment network — specifically by adding delivery drones to some of its same-delivery sites. Prime Air drones currently only operate out of the two standalone sites in Texas and California, so expanding drones to other sites means a wider delivery range and closer integration with Amazon’s delivery network.
“Moving forward, we will integrate drones into the Amazon delivery network, so customers will have traditional delivery vans, Flex delivery vehicles, and Prime Air drones leaving from the same building,” wrote the company in its announcement.
Amazon also gave us a sneak peek of its new Prime Air delivery drone that it claims flies twice as far as its current model. Even more critically, the drones will be able to operate in light rain and what Amazon calls more “diverse weather.” The company released photos of the MK30 drone today, which it said will replace its existing delivery drones by late 2024.
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The MK30 is also smaller and quieter than the existing Prime Air model, Amazon claims. The new drone can deliver objects of up to five pounds, with a typical delivery time of “one hour or less.” The new drone includes a “sense and avoid” feature that can help it avoid pets, people, and property. The new design will hopefully result in smoother flights. As CNBC reported, Prime Air drones have had multiple crashes over the years.