Amazon is delivering drones to this California cowboy town

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LOCKFORD, Calif. – Six months ago, Amazon contacted local authorities in this rural town to inform them that it plans to launch its long-awaited drone delivery service here.

But since last week – when Amazon made the news public – many residents of unincorporated Lockford with its vineyards, fruit stands and ranch, I still didn’t know about the plan.

An 82-year-old woman who lives across the street from the still-under-construction drone facility with her dog, horse, two ponies and a small herd of goats said no one mentioned Amazon’s plans to her. The same goes for two brothers who are busy turning a nearby winery they recently bought into a marijuana farm.

A man at a local archery shop jokingly commented, “Target exercise!” When he found out.

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When Amazon announced last week that it would begin shipping drones for the first time in the United States, the news surprised many Lockford residents. Amazon often undertakes its projects secretly using code names and negotiating tax subsidies secretly, whether data centers, corporate headquarters or new execution centers are being built. But the big revelation sometimes comes as a shock to locals, sparking battles between the tech giant and the communities it seeks to sue.

In recent years a a suburb of Denveran island community on the Canadian border of New York and a a small town in Massachusetts they all banded together to stop development from Amazon after the news went public. In 2018, after a process of silence to choose New York as one of its second central sites, he rejected the plan due to great rejection. (Amazon is in the process of building its own the so-called HQ2 in Arlington, Virginia)

The team that chose Lockford liked him because of the weather, the rural topography, the access to the highway and the existing customer base, a former Amazon employee told The Washington Post, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of revenge. But the team also thinks it’s a good choice because there won’t be too much bureaucracy.

“He felt like a cowboy and did whatever you wanted there,” the man said.

The company said it began contacting locals within a four-mile radius of the site last week to find out who was interested in trying out the program. Those who register will be able to choose from a selection of items under five pounds stored in a small warehouse nearby. The drones, which are 6.5 feet wide and nearly 4 feet high, must drop the packages at a predetermined location about four feet high.

There were some warnings: Lockford County, San Joaquin, is still processing its permits and the company still needs to get permission from the Federal Aviation Administration.

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But not all residents are ready to welcome the mat.

“They’re invading our privacy,” said Tim Blyton, a cement entrepreneur who lives near Lockford and who once threatened to shoot down a neighbor’s drone over his house.

He worries that Amazon cameras are seeing his backyard. But Blyton added that he would not be interested in any delivery from Amazon, which he said “would destroy our stores for mother and priest.”

“I’m not an Amazon person,” Blyton said. “I think they will destroy everything for us.

Amazon is working with local authorities in Lockford, company spokesman Av Zammit said, and is working to obtain permits. The company’s drone “does not capture images from below when flying to its destination of delivery and back” and does not use this data for any other purpose. The drone project will also add new jobs.

One day, seeing Prime Air drones will be as normal as Prime delivery trucks, he said. “However,” he added, “if someone shot down a drone, he would have broken the law.”

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, who owns The Washington Post, made a big fuss when he announced a drone delivery to 60 minutes in 2013. But the company is struggling to keep its promise, doing so far fairly delivery with one drone in Cambridge, England in 2016 before the team was dissolved. In March 2020 Bloomberg reports that Amazon has hired David Carbon from Boeing to speed up the project, and some employees have clashed with his approach. Former flight assistant Chedi Skeet speaks publicly about his safety concerns over Prime Air, which suffered a number of drone crashes during test flights, including one in Oregon that started 25 acres spill.

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Amazon has tried to circumvent regulation and avoid FAA inspections after disasters, Business Insider reported last month. Asked if clashes between the agency and the company around its Oregon test site could delay drone launches, FAA spokesman Ian Gregor said the agency “did not comment on upcoming certification projects or discussions with companies.”

Amazon’s Zammit said the company’s drones had been tested in a “closed, private facility” and that “no one has ever been injured or injured in those flights.” Lockford’s supplies will not be experimental, he added, and will be offered under FAA certification to ensure the program meets the agency’s “high safety bar”. The company works closely with local authorities.

A former Amazon employee familiar with Prime Air said the team is under pressure to make some deliveries this year, or the future of the project could be in jeopardy. Amazon denies it this.

Some Lockford residents said it might make sense to them. – I have a lot of space, why not? said Tracy Clark, a local Amazon customer who said she orders almost anything from the site.

Pam Coleman, who lives in a nearly 30-acre property near Lockford, said the nearest town has only a few amenities. “It might be better in places like that,” she said.

Others were mixed. Greg Baroni is an Amazon customer who lives close enough to sign up for drone delivery. But he said Amazon was delivering packages to his home fast enough.

“I don’t think drones are needed,” he told The Post. “They take the jobs of people who are looking.”

Like Blyton, the idea of ​​drones made him uncomfortable. “I don’t want drones flying around my house – we live in the countryside,” he said.

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The property, which will house Prime Air, which Amazon rents out from a local concrete manufacturer, is already zoned for distribution, according to Stephanie Yoder, a county spokeswoman. The county said the company is currently in the process of obtaining the appropriate building and business permits, adding that it will also undergo an environmental review through the FAA.

Amazon has a team working with local authorities to ensure the community is open to its presence, the former official said. It can also be a challenge to persuade customers to participate in a program that limits what they can order and requires coordination with Amazon.

“It’s pain,” the official added. A spokesman for Amazon Zammit said customers would be able to order packages to be delivered by drone in the normal way.

Amazon has also announced plans to deliver drones to College Station, Texas, where the city council is due to vote on the plan on July 14. meeting of the zoning commission Last week, members of the public expressed concern about safety and noise, including resident Amina Alihan, who said that if Lockford was willing to try drone delivery first, College Station should “allow them to be a test site”.

But in Lockford, many residents were surprised to hear that their rural farming town had been selected for the Amazon program.

“I have a lot of cattle and horses, and a drone could easily scare animals,” said Nayden Koster. “Horses will run straight through barbed wire or really any kind of fence when they think they are in danger. I have seen horses commit suicide over a flying balloon, I would not like to see the damage that a flying drone would do if it came to their area. “

“Lockford is an old-school farming town made up mostly of old ranches,” she continued. “So the idea of ​​this newer technology invading your privacy while scaring your animals is pretty scary for many here.

Amazon’s Zammit said the company had worked to reduce noise and would “work hard to minimize any potential interference.”

Lockford resident Joy Huffman said her daughters order so much from Amazon that she receives a package delivered almost every day. However, she is not sure she would join the program voluntarily. “I wonder how it will happen,” she said. “I hope the drone puts it in the right yard.”

“I don’t like taking people’s jobs,” said Jennifer Hoy, who moved to Lockford from nearby Lodi about a year ago. “But I want to check it out – I’d like to see what it looks like.”

But there are those for whom Amazon, whether delivered by humans or by drone, is not a starting point.

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“My adopted son worked for them, they don’t treat their employees properly,” said Jay Himines, who stopped picking sausages at Lockford on Wednesday afternoon. “If I go to order something and see it says Amazon, I miss it.”

A man watering his garden right on the road from Amazon’s upcoming launch site was also concerned about Amazon’s bad reputation as an employer.

The man, who declined to give his name, said his wife orders regularly from Amazon. Asked if he would sign up for the drone experiment, he shook his head.

“They already have too much money and too much power,” he added.

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