News & Analysis

Amazon Selects California for Drone Delivery Pilot Program

As it continues to attempt to get its turbulent drone delivery service off the ground, Amazon announced it has selected several farming towns in Northern California to host its drone delivery pilot program. While Amazon is still waiting for several FAA and local approvals, it nonetheless is preparing to launch the program in the towns of Lockeford, Acampo and Lodi in San Joaquin County by the end of the year. 

Amazon is already building a fulfillment center in Lockeford to warehouse “thousands” of everyday items for drone delivery within the hour. After signing up for the program (free, for now), customers will identify a suitable landing area with an Amazon employee and leave a unique marker on the ground. Delivery drones will then fly to the marker, hover a few feet above the ground and release the package to fall a short distance. 

Amazon’s drone delivery program, first announced in 2013, has faced a number of setbacks, including at least eight crashes and an incident in 2019 when a crashed drone started a brush fire in Oregon. 

Despite the setbacks, Amazon and other companies like Alphabet and UPS are determined to adopt drone delivery programs; by replacing trucks and delivery drivers with drones, companies will be able to reduce delivery costs by as much as 90%. But are consumers — and citizens — ready for a world in which dozens of drones buzz by overhead every hour? 

According to a recent NASA study, humans find drone buzzes to be much more annoying than cars or trucks; the low rumble of cars or trucks fades into the background, whereas the high-pitched buzz of a drone is far more distinct and distracting. Though Amazon has designed its latest drone to “minimize high-frequency soundwaves,” whether or not the new model is sufficiently quiet remains to be seen.

While it’s unclear how the residents of the rural San Joaquin Valley will react to frequent drone flyovers, especially those living near Amazon’s fulfillment center, one thing’s for certain: for better or worse, the drones are coming soon.