If you order your medications through Amazon Pharmacy, you could soon have a drone deliver them for free within 60 minutes of ordering. With this service, Amazon seeks to reduce the time window between consumers feeling sick and getting treatment.
"For decades, the customer experience has been to drive to a pharmacy with limited operating hours, stand in line, and have a public conversation about your health situation, or to wait five to ten days for traditional mail-order delivery," said John Love, vice president of Amazon Pharmacy. "With Amazon Pharmacy, you can quickly get the medications you need -- whether by drone or standard delivery -- without having to miss soccer practice or leave work early."
The catch? Drone Delivery for Amazon Pharmacy is only available in College Station, TX. The upside is that this experiment is meant to roll out nationwide eventually.
College Station customers can order from over 500 medications available through Amazon Pharmacy for colds, flu, pneumonia, and other ailments and choose Drone Delivery at checkout when available. A pharmacist will then load the packaged medication into one of Prime Air's FAA-approved drones, which takes off to deliver within 60 minutes.
"Our drones fly over traffic, eliminating the excess time a customer's package might spend in transit on the road," said Calsee Hendrickson,director of product and program management at Prime Air. "That's the beauty of drone delivery, and medications were the first thing our customers said they also want delivered quickly via drone. Speed and convenience top the wish list for health purchases."
The drones maintain an altitude between 40 to 120 meters while traveling and use an array of sensors and cameras to detect and avoid obstacles. The data gathered by these drones is fed into a neural network for visual recognition, enabling them to detect and identify whether they see a person, animal, or object interfering in their travel or descent path.
Once a drone finds its delivery marker at the customer's home, it descends and releases the package, then rises back up and returns to the delivery center. The customers can grab their packaged medication without interacting with the drone.
"We're taught from the first days of medical school that there is a golden window that matters in clinical medicine," said Dr. Vin Gupta, chief medical officer of Amazon Pharmacy. "That's the time between when a patient feels unwell and when they're able to get treatment. We're working hard at Amazon to dramatically narrow the golden window from diagnosis to treatment, and drone delivery marks a significant step forward. Whether it's an infectious disease or respiratory illness, early intervention can be critical to improving patient outcomes."
Amazon Pharmacy already offers diagnosis and treatment options nationwide, giving customers across the US access to virtual appointments to assess common ailments through its platform. The expansion into Prime Air, one of Amazon's growing ventures, is a way to bring even more convenience to customers.
Prime Air is a drone delivery service servicing customers in College Station, TX, and Lockeford, CA, since late 2022. Until now, these customers had access to one-hour deliveries of products available through Amazon but not prescription medication.
Expanding Prime Air to other areas in the US poses many challenges, like FAA regulatory hurdles, which vary by state and local jurisdiction, safety assurances, and public acceptance. Amazon hopes its success in its limited testing paves the way to adding more drone delivery locations with time.