Amazon is bringing drone delivery to this California cowboy town

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Lockeford, CA — Six months ago, Amazon contacted the local government in this rural town and informed them that it was planning to launch the long-awaited drone delivery service here.

But when Amazon released the news last week, many of the unincorporated Rockford residents with vineyards, orchards, and ranches, I didn’t know about the plan yet.

An 82-year-old woman living with a dog, a horse, two ponies, and a flock of small goats, directly across from a drone facility still under construction, said no one mentioned Amazon’s plans. The same was true for two brothers who were busy converting a recently purchased nearby winery into a marijuana farm.

A man from a local archery shop jokingly commented, “Target practice!” When he found it.

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The news surprised many Rockford residents when Amazon announced last week that it would begin delivering packages via drones for the first time in the United States. Whether you’re building a data center, headquarters, or a new fulfillment center, Amazon often uses codenames, secretly negotiates tax subsidies, and secretly undertakes projects. However, great exposure sometimes shocks the locals and triggers a battle between the tech giant and the community in which it seeks court.

In recent years, the suburbs of Denver, the community of islands on the Canadian border of New York, and the small towns of Massachusetts have all gathered to stop Amazon development after the news was released. In 2018, after a rush process to select New York City as one of the second headquarters sites, the plan was not approved due to a big backlash. (Amazon is building a so-called HQ2 in Arlington, Virginia)

The team that chose Rockford liked it because of the weather, countryside terrain, highway access, and existing customer base, a former Amazon employee who spoke on anonymous terms for fear of retaliation. I told the Washington Post. However, the team also considered it a good choice, as there is not much bureaucratic formalism.

It “feels a kind of cowboy and does what you are there,” he said.

The company said last week it began contacting locals within a four-mile radius of the site to find out who was interested in the program. Signed up people can choose from items under £ 5 stored in a small warehouse nearby. A drone 6.5 feet wide and about 4 feet high is supposed to drop the package in place from a height of about 4 feet.

There were some caveats. San Joaquin County, which houses Lockeford, is still processing a permit and the company still needs to get approval from the Federal Aviation Administration.

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However, not all residents are ready to lay out the welcome mat.

“They are infringing on our privacy,” said Tim Brighton, a cement contractor living near Rockford. He once threatened to shoot down his neighbor’s drone flying over his house.

He is worried that the Amazon camera will break into his backyard. But Brighton added that he wasn’t interested in any kind of delivery from Amazon, “we’re trying to destroy our moms and pop-up stores.”

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

Amazon is working with Rockford’s local government, and its spokeswoman Av Zammit said he’s working to get a permit. The company’s drones “do not capture images from below when flying back to their destination” and do not use that data for any other purpose. Drone projects also add new jobs.

One day, he said, seeing a Prime Air drone would be as normal as a Prime delivery truck. “But if someone shot down the drone, they would have violated the law,” he added.

Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, who owns the Washington Post, was a hot topic when he announced the delivery of the drone at 60 Minutes in 2013. Before the team breaks up. In March 2020, Bloomberg reported that Amazon hired David Carbon from Boeing to speed up the project, with some employees clashing with his approach. Former flight assistant Cheddi Skeete publicly talked about safety concerns about Prime Air, which experienced multiple drone crashes during a test flight, including a flight in Oregon that launched a 25-acre fire.

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Business Insider reported last month that Amazon tried to circumvent regulations and circumvent FAA testing after a crash. Asked by FAA spokesman Ian Gregor whether a clash between an agency and a company over a test site in Oregon could delay the launch of a drone, the agency commented on pending certification projects and discussions with companies. I won’t. “

Amazon’s Zamit said the company’s drones have been tested in “closed private facilities” and “have never been injured or harmed as a result of these flights.” Rockford’s deliveries are not experimental and are offered under FAA airline certificates to ensure that the program meets the Federal Aviation Administration’s “high safety standards,” he added. The company also works closely with local governments.

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

Some Rockford residents said it might make sense for them. “I have so many rooms, why?” Amazon’s local customer, Tracy Clark, said he would order almost everything from the site.

Pam Coleman, who lives on nearly 30 acres not far from Rockford, said the nearest town has only a few facilities. “Maybe better in such a place,” she said.

Others were mixed. Greg Baroni is an Amazon customer who lives close enough to sign up for drone delivery. However, he said Amazon would deliver the package to his home at the same speed.

“I don’t think you need a drone,” he told the post. “They are robbing the people they are looking for.”

Like Brighton, the idea of ​​a drone made him uncomfortable. “I don’t want the drone to fly around my house — we live in the countryside,” he said.

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According to county spokeswoman Stephanie Yoda, Amazon’s prime air-based property leased from a local concrete producer had already been zoned for distribution. The county said the company is currently in the process of obtaining appropriate building and business permits, and will also undergo an environmental review by the FAA.

Amazon has a team that works with local governments to ensure that the community is open to its existence, a former employee said. It can also be a challenge to limit what you can order and convince your customers to participate in programs that require coordination with Amazon.

“It’s a pain,” the employee added. Amazon spokesman Zammit said customers will be able to order packages delivered by drones in the usual way.

Amazon also announced plans to bring drone deliveries to College Station, Texas, where the city council will vote for the plan on July 14. If Lockeford is open to trying to deliver the drone first, College Station said “they should be a test site,” said resident Amina Alikhan.

But in Rockford, many residents were surprised to hear that their rural villages were selected for the Amazon program.

“I have a lot of livestock and horses. Drones can easily scare animals,” says Naydeene Koster. “A horse goes straight through barbed wire, or in fact any kind of fence, when it thinks it’s in danger. I’ve seen horses commit suicide in a flying balloon. I don’t want to see the damage that flying drones are coming to their area. “

“Rockford is an old school farm town that consists primarily of old ranches,” she continued. “Therefore, the idea that this new technology can invade privacy and scare animals is very scary to many here.”

Amazon’s Zamit said the company is working to reduce noise and “work hard to minimize potential disruption.”

According to Joy Huffman, who lives in Rockford, the daughters order large quantities from Amazon, so packages are delivered almost every day. Still, she doesn’t know if she will volunteer for the program. “How does it work?” She said. “Hopefully the drone will put it in the right yard.”

“I don’t like robbing people of their jobs,” said Jennifer Hoi, who moved to Rockford from nearby Lodi about a year ago. “But I want to check it out — I want to see what it looks like.”

However, some people are not beginners, whether Amazon was delivered by humans or by drones.

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“My son-in-law worked for them, they aren’t treating their employees properly,” said Jay Jimines, who stopped picking sausages at Rockford Wednesday afternoon. “When I go to order something and see that it says Amazon, I’m passing by.”

A man watering a yard just off Amazon’s upcoming drone launch site was also worried about the bad reputation of Amazon’s employers.

The man who refused to reveal his name said his wife would order from Amazon on a regular basis. Asked if he would sign up for a drone experiment, he shook his head.

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

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