CONTRIBUTOR

Amazon’s Prime Air drone delivery service is set to launch in Italy, the UK and a third U.S. state – following California and Texas – by late 2024.

The service will be available to eligible customers for items weighing up to five pounds, with faster, quieter and more weather resistant MK30 drones. These drones will operate autonomously and feature sense-and-avoid technology to navigate obstacles.

In addition to the new locations, Prime Air is integrating drone deliveries into Amazon’s existing fulfillment network, with the aim of enhancing convenience and speeding up deliveries. The company said it has been working closely with regulators and governments to ensure safe and scalable drone operations.

By offering customers a blend of traditional delivery methods, including traditional vans and Prime Air drones, Amazon aims to streamline the retail experience, create a safer and more sustainable delivery model, and provide faster product deliveries.

This expansion is part of Amazon’s efforts to make drone deliveries a widespread reality, with further details and updates expected in the coming months.

Regulators and governments have expressed support for Amazon’s innovative approach, with Italy’s National Civil Aviation Authority (ENAC) president, Pierluigi Di Palma, emphasizing the importance of fostering an ecosystem favorable to safe developments in advanced air mobility.

“Exploring the options of how drones can be safely and successfully incorporated into more of the UK’s airspace is key,” Frederic Laugere, head of innovation advisory services at the UK Civil Aviation Authority, said in a statement.

He added it was “vital” that projects such as this take place to feed into the overall knowledge and experiences that will soon enable drones to be operating beyond the line of sight of their pilot on a day-to-day basis.

The size of the global drone delivery market is forecast to reach $1.7 billion this year and is projected to increase to $4.3 billion by the end of 2027, according to a recent Statista report.

Gartner analyst Pedro Pacheco says the expansion is a strong indicator of Amazon’s commitment to evolving drone-based delivery services and bolsters the potential for same-day delivery.

“This is where delivery by drone really shines, even if Amazon is already quite efficient in offering deliveries by way van that you can have with next day delivery, which is already very good,” he explains. “Obviously we need to see what’s going to be the price for the consumer and whether it is something that they will be willing to pay for in some circumstances.”

Even with Amazon’s substantial financial and organization’s resources, the expansion of drone delivery service is a highly complex undertaking, Pacheco notes, and cautions that before other retail or delivery service specialists embark on their own drone delivery services, they need a well-formulated plan of action.

“The most important thing is that the whole process is as customer centric as possible, because if it doesn’t bring a true, tangible customer benefit, it becomes somewhat pointless, which means that it will not stick,” he says. “A retailer must be an online retailer, and the buying experience should be extremely good.”

The IT leaders and the customer service leaders must work together to understand how they will use the capabilities for drone delivery.

“This is most likely going to be about same day delivery because it’s the aspect of speed, coordinating the drone fleet operations with the back office online sales platform and logistics platform,” Pacheco says.

The main logistical considerations regarding the drones are where the vehicles are kept and what the delivery radius will be.

“Drones have a limited autonomy–you’re probably looking at around 30 miles, although this is likely to increase as battery technology improves,” he says. “If you don’t have a depot in the vicinity than it doesn’t work.”

He points out drone delivery companies are keen to offer their services to retailers, however the problem is that despite the multiple pilot programs, the scale of operations is still not mature.

“It’s about having retailers that understand the value of the technology and the value of the concept and are willing to invest in it,” he says. “If you have a retailer that starts doing drone delivery and then they start bumping into the first obstacles they must have the capability and the willingness to solve them.”

The willingness usually means investing money, or else the initiative will eventually die.

“If you are committed to this, if you have the technology capabilities to do it, you are going to stumble because this is not easy–you’re going to encounter obstacles, you’re going to fail,” Pacheco cautions. “Then you basically find a way around those challenges and invest again. You’ll keep on going. This is something which is very complex, so it’s not for everyone. It’s for the companies that have the expertise and the commitment from a priority perspective from a financial perspective to make it happen.”