DAYTONA BEACH — Amazon is set to open a massive new distribution center in Deltona this fall as the e-commerce giant steps up efforts to speed delivery times in this region to potentially include same-day or next-day service.
But the day is coming when the online retailer could deliver some orders to customers’ doorsteps within 30 minutes of being placed.
Not with its ubiquitous dark blue Amazon Prime vans, but by aerial drones.
“It certainly could happen eventually in Volusia County,” said John Robbins, an associate professor of aeronautical sciences at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach. “I think we could see it happen within three to five years.”
The Federal Aviation Administration on Aug. 29 approved Amazon’s eventual use of unmanned aerial drones to deliver packages weighing up to five pounds.
The Seattle-based company has become only the third to receive the certification, known as a Part 135 Air Carrier Certificate.
The others are UPS Flight Forward and a company called Wing Aviation which is owned by Alphabet, the parent company for Google. None have yet to widely deploy delivery drones.
“This certification is an important step forward for Prime Air and indicates the FAA’s confidence in Amazon’s operating and safety procedures for an autonomous drone delivery service that will one day deliver packages to our customers around the world,” said David Carbon, vice president of Prime Air for Amazon, in a written statement provided to The News-Journal.
“We will continue to develop and refine our technology to fully integrate delivery drones into the airspace and working closely with the FAA and other regulators around the world to realize our vision of 30-minute delivery,” he said.
With the certification now in hand, Amazon in an email said it intends to begin testing customer deliveries, but did not specify where.
The FAA issued the certification to Amazon on the heels of an Aug. 21 announcement about the federal agency’s awarding of $7.5 million in unmanned aircraft system research grants to several universities. Embry-Riddle received two of those grants.
One was a $249,923 grant to study urban air mobility safety standards, market feasibility and the potential for growth. The other was a $264,900 grant to study unmanned aircraft systems standards for tracking, mapping and analysis.
Some of that research is being conducted at the MicaPlex complex at the new Embry-Riddle Research Park on Clyde Morris Boulevard, just south of the university’s Daytona Beach campus.
Embry-Riddle officials said they were not aware of any plans by Amazon to test its delivery drones in the Daytona Beach area, but said research teams here are working on some of the very issues that Amazon is seeking answers for.
“We’re part of the research group that works on projects pertinent to what Amazon is trying to do,” Robbins said.
Those issues include how to ensure the safe use of unmanned delivery drones as well as how to make them able to detect and avoid collisions with other aircraft or cars and trucks.
“There’s also a cyber security aspect to address,” he said. “We still have a number of obstacles to overcome.”
“To make it (drone delivery) viable, they have to figure out how to do it in an urban environment,” he added.
Dave Spitzer. project manager of the Eagle Flight Research Center at the Embry-Riddle Research Park, said Amazon would most likely deploy its electric-powered delivery drones as a “hyper local service.
“What folks could expect is to see drones used to make very short-range deliveries,” he said. “I think the drones would probably need to take off rom a drone-charging substation.”
What the FAA certification for Amazon means is the company will now being able to “take the next step in testing out in the real world versus in a lab,” said Spitzer. “It’s another step in the timeline, but it’s not going to come to Volusia County next year.”
Amazon in an email stated that it has already “invested extensively in researching and testing” delivery drones” at development centers it has established around the world. “Our team has logged thousands of flight hours and put our drones through rigorous testing and evaluation to refine their autonomous systems. … (The research) provides us with a foundation we’ll one day use to scale Prime Air to meet the needs of our customers around the world.
“We recognize the only solution worth launching is one that is safe and reliable and this Part 135 Certificate is a big step in that direction. It does not mean that we’ll be regularly delivering packages to customers’ yards tomorrow, but we’re actively flying and testing. It will take more time and more hard work before our operations are ready to scale.”
This article originally appeared on The Daytona Beach News-Journal: Embry-Riddle officials: Amazon package delivery by drone could be in Daytona area’s future