CS City Council to discuss Amazon drones and hear from concerned residents

Published: Jul. 13, 2022 at 9:15 PM CDT
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COLLEGE STATION, Texas (KBTX) - The College Station City Council will discuss approving a zoning change for 400 Technology Parkway, a property located near Earl Rudder Fwy and Highway 6, at Thursday’s meeting.

If approved, the almost seven-acre lot would open up for an Amazon Prime Air location, where customers in a four-mile radius could have items delivered to their homes by a drone.

This delivery could be achieved within 30 minutes after ordering.

Many residents living near the proposed plot, are voicing concerns regarding the history of Amazon drone crashes.

“Security and privacy is the first thing that occurred to me when I saw it. The second thing was safety,” Charlie Lindahl, a College Station resident, said.

Lindahl is referring to reports of Amazon drone crashes, which caused a wildfire in Oregon. According to Amazon, these crashes happened during a testing phase where the drone was pushed beyond its limit to test how it would respond. Amazon says these are not the flights drones in College Station will be doing.

“Safety is our top priority. Our vehicles are built with multiple safety features and sophisticated “sense and avoid” technology. Our drone is designed to handle unexpected situations safely. If it can’t do so, it’s programmed to behave in a pre-defined way—it will return to its point of launch or land immediately in a safe location,” Av Zammit, with Amazon Public Relations, said.

Lindahl said he is also concerned that drones will fall into traffic, and run into objects on the ground and obstacles in the sky.

“I’m more worried about accidents in the sense of, you know, what happens if it conks out in the middle of the highway, and it falls on the highway while there were cars in there,” Lindahl said. “If this thing flies into a bunch of birds and then causes birds to go get killed, what’s happening there.”

Zammit said these drones are built with redundancy, meaning they have extra vital parts. Amazon says if an error occurs, the drone will detect that and use reserves or find a safe place to land.

Lindahl also voiced concerns about the drones having cameras attached.

“Customer trust is paramount with the Prime Air program. Our drone does not capture imagery from underneath when it is flying to its delivery destination and back. It is looking forward to ensuring a safe flight. During the delivery phase, the drone descends into the customer’s backyard and hovers, looking down to ensure the delivery area is clear of obstacles and the delivery can be made safely. Amazon uses the data to ensure safe operations and to improve the overall safety of the system. We do not use data for any other purpose,” Zammit said.

The College Station Planning and Zoning Committee approved a proposal in June to rezone the property. The proposal was then sent to City Council. Thursday’s meeting will include public comment. According to the city, two people are signed up to speak on behalf of local groups but it is unclear who those groups are.

If approved, College Station would be one of the first locations in the U.S. to see drone delivery.

“We are excited for College Station to potentially be one of the first locations for Prime Air. We looked at locations across the country for this project and College Station was a clear favorite. We are impressed with many of the aspects that make College Station a special place: the research and work conducted by the University, the small-town feel, and the sense of community that is clear from the minute you enter the town. We are thrilled about the opportunity to launch this service here and partner with Texas A&M on some of the great work they’ve been doing in the area of drones,” Zammit said.

At the June meeting, residents also voiced concerns about the noise that would be associated with the drone flights. City Council will meet at 6:00 p.m. Thursday at City Hall.

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