The company announced on Wednesday, Oct. 18 in a blog post that customers in the small city of College Station, Texas will be eligible to get their prescriptions delivered by a drone within an hour of placing their order. (Related: Amazon to begin testing Digit – a six-foot-tall humanoid robot that might end up REPLACING human warehouse workers.)
Amazon Pharmacy is a full-service pharmacy Amazon launched in 2020 following its acquisition of the pharmaceutical startup PillPack in 2018. It is an online-accessible pharmacy that the company has been promoting for the past few years by offering different kinds of perks and savings benefits, especially for Amazon Prime members. The trial of medicine deliveries via drone is just the latest benefit Amazon is testing as a way to attract new customers.
According to Amazon, its delivery drones are equipped with cameras with high-tech systems that allow them to identify objects such as people and animals. The drones fly between 40 to 120 meters (131 to 394 feet) in an airspace with "minimal obstacles."
Once a drone determines that the delivery space – presumably the customer's home or workplace – is clear, it will descend and release the package containing the customer's medication. If the drone detects obstacles, it will return to the Amazon fulfillment center, notify the customer and reattempt the delivery later.
To be eligible for drone deliveries, College Station customers have to sign up for Amazon Prime Air and complete a yard survey. Once that is done, customers will be able to choose from more than 500 prescription medications. This list includes common medicines for conditions like flu or pneumonia. Controlled substances will not be delivered via drone.
The use of drone deliveries in College Station would be the biggest expansion for Amazon's Prime Air division since it began testing drone deliveries of common household items last December both in College Station and in Lockeford, California.
Amazon spokesperson Jessica Bardoulas noted that the company has made thousands of successful deliveries since launching the service, and its expansion to delivering prescription medication was inspired in part by customer requests.
Before the beginning of this trial, Amazon Prime was already testing the delivery of certain medications from Amazon Pharmacy within two days. Pharmacy Vice President John Love said this long delivery time could end up harming people with acute illnesses like the flu.
"What we're trying to do is figure out how can we bend the curve on speed," he said.
Amazon Pharmacy Chief Medical Officer Dr. Vin Gupta said American healthcare generally has obstacles to the quick diagnosing and treating of patients with acute illnesses. Narrowing the window between diagnosis and treatment – perhaps down to 60 minutes – makes many possible pharmaceutical treatments more effective, he said.
If this trial is successful, Amazon announced it will launch drone delivery options to a third location in the U.S. and in cities in Italy and the United Kingdom by the end of next year.
Learn more about the use of drones by corporations at DroneWatchNews.com.
Watch this video from John Williams as he reports on Amazon's plan to buy up to 750,000 new robots to replace human workers.