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Prime Air has its first landing spot.
Amazon’s drone delivery service is planning to start making deliveries in Lockeford, California, later this year, marking the first customer deliveries for the program.
Residents will be able to sign up for a free drone delivery service, and select from Prime Air items on Amazon. The drone will arrive at a backyard, hover at a “safe height,” and then release a package.
The company said it is working with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and local officials on obtaining permission for the service.
Amazon’s announcement comes amid a flurry of activity in the ecommerce drone delivery space. In recent weeks, Walmart announced plans to expand its drone service to 34 sites in six states. Meanwhile, Alphabet’s Wing service is delivering Walgreens items in four suburbs of Dallas. Unilever has a partnership with Flytrex to deliver ice cream by drone this summer in North Carolina and Texas, too.
Amazon planted the earliest flag for drone delivery in 2013, when then-CEO Jeff Bezos famously appeared on 60 Minutes to make a surprise announcement about the Prime Air program’s ambitions. But the company has since struggled to get the drone service off the ground amid delays and crashes.
With its launch now, Amazon is looking to demonstrate that it is best positioned.
With the announcement of Prime Air’s debut in Lockeford, Amazon offered a glimpse at its development through the years, including a slideshow of some of the more than two dozen prototypes it has developed that nodded to the many iterations.
It also provided a look at how it plans to stand out. Amazon said its technology is designed to automatically “sense-and-avoid” potential hazards. This is distinct from drone delivery that requires an observer to visually observe a route. From the description:
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. 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. If obstacles are identified, our drone will automatically change course to safely avoid them. As our drone descends to deliver the package into a customer’s backyard, the drone ensures that there’s a small area around the delivery location that’s clear of any people, animals, or other obstacles.
The program will need to be cleared for takeoff by regulators, and Amazon said it will work with federal and and local officials. In 2020, Amazon received a Federal Aviation Administration air carrier certificate for Prime Air.
Along with a leadership role into the future of airborne, autonomous technology, the prize of a successful drone delivery system is the ability to provide the fast (read: less than one hour) delivery that customers want, while doing so without sending human delivery drivers.
Going first on a new technology can bring the spotlight that’s sought by those who want to be seen as innovators, but those bright lights can get hotter if the results don't come. Meanwhile, when others make their own moves, it can appear that they've pulled into the lead.
Famously averse to acknowledging competitors, Amazon tries to be impervious to this. It is known for giving technologies time to develop. It has led to plenty of success that put it in the driver's seat of US ecommerce. But some developments didn’t ever see the light, such as the company’s ill-fated Fire Phone, which failed on launch. Others, like the company’s grocery business, have gone through a series of pivots as the company seeks to find a breakthrough.
Over nearly a decade, the drone program has had a unique place in this pantheon. The 60 Minutes appearance instantly brought it into the public consciousness. Simultaneously, it has yet to be used by the public to allow consumers to deliver a verdict.
The stakes for a potential launch suddenly seem higher now. Amazon is facing pressure over rising delivery driver crashes and labor unions in its logistics facilities, who were successful in organizing a fulfillment center in New York. It is also seeking to get its consumer business back to growth after reporting a quarterly loss and admitting it overbuilt logistics facilities. Meanwhile, the CEO of its consumer business is departing. As underscored by its own drone expansion, Walmart is rolling out big ecommerce upgrades with the kind of organizational foresight and technology combination that’s typically seen with Amazon. Perhaps those are leading the company to act more quickly. Stories from Bloomberg and Business Insider earlier this year depicted a program that was struggling to get off the ground. Monday’s announcement, however, is a sign that it is closer to the light of day than the public thought.
Whether it is successful in a community remains to be seen. Amazon said residents will help in offering feedback. The company said it will also be "creating new jobs, building partnerships with local organizations and helping reduce carbon emissions."
Though it didn't provide details on specific local initiatives , it's clear the groundwork is being laid. In our recent roundup of the drone delivery launches, we concluded the piece by writing of Amazon’s drone delivery ambitions, “Down the road, there may be another big unveiling still to come.”
With the stage set in Lockeford, it looks like that could arrive before the year is out.
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LadderUp is aiming for 50% LGBTQ+ and BIPOC participation. Shopify will provide access to its platform.
Shipt is launching a new accelerator program designed to provide ecommerce tools for local retailers.Called LadderUp, the program is centered on equity. Target-owned delivery owned Shipt said conversations with business owners have revealed that local entrepreneurs face “gaps” in technology, but they also want to participate in ecommerce platforms. The COVID-19 pandemic was especially difficult for Black business owners, who saw earnings drop between 11-28% in 2019-2020, as compared to the earnings decrease of 5-17% for the rest of the population.
With the new program, the company’s goal is to reach at least 50% LGBTQ+ and BIPOC participation in the program.
Shipt is aiming to serve businesses in Atlanta, Birmingham, Alabama, Detroit, Houston and Washington, D.C.
Target categories include: grocery/beverage, health, beauty, and floral/gifts retailers.
“Working with small businesses to build up their capabilities is a key part of our commitment to help create healthier, more resilient and equitable communities,” said CEO Kamau Witherspoon. “We recognize the unique role that we can play in both combating hunger in under-resourced communities and boosting small, local retailers that are so vital to communities across our country.”
What will entrepreneurs receive?
Education: Business owners who are selected will receive an 8-week course with industry leaders that covers business-building topics including finances, efficiency, marketing, ecommerce 101, the basics of using Shipt, and legal knowledge.
Funding: Upon completion, retailers will provide $5,000 for businesses to invest in ecommerce.
Shopify access: Shopify, which is partnering with Shipt, is also providing to its access for a limited amount of time to help business owners build an online storefront and manage inventory. The program will also provide technical assistance.Applications are open Feb. 6- March 6.