In Texas, Amazon drones drop prescription medications from the air. How does that work?

Texans can now get medications faster with drone delivery from Amazon Pharmacy, Amazon announced on Oct. 18.

Amazon Pharmacy customers in College Station can get their prescription medications delivered outside their door in one hour or less via drone — at no additional cost. College Station residents selecting drone delivery will have access to more than 500 medications that treat common conditions, including flu, asthma and pneumonia, according to the Amazon news release.

“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.”

The technology has been in the works for years. Online retail giant Amazon said in 2015 that it was developing a way to use drones to deliver packages in 30 minutes or less, a broad expansion of unmanned flight that is raising concerns about safety, security and privacy, the Star-Telegram reported. At the time, it was thought that the ability to use commercial drones to quickly deliver packages was probably years away. But when government regulations catch up with emerging technologies, Amazon says it could revolutionize the way people shop for items they need quickly.

Amazon is offering College Station customers drone delivery of prescription medications.
Amazon is offering College Station customers drone delivery of prescription medications.

How to get Amazon medicine drone delivery

Drone delivery is currently only available to customers who live in College Station. Eligible customers will have the option to select drone delivery during Amazon Pharmacy checkout. If an item is drone-eligible, customers will see a “Delivery by Drone” option that offers delivery within 60 minutes.

To get the medicine you need quickly via Amazon’s drone delivery service, you can select “free drone delivery in less than 60 minutes” at checkout. A pharmacist will then ensure medications are loaded and transported to your home within the next hour.

To prepare for drone delivery, you’ll need to onboard with Prime Air and participate in a yard survey. Once you become eligible and place an order for delivery, you’ll need to position an Amazon-provided delivery marker at your home. When the drone arrives, it will descend to around four meters and release the package above the delivery area, then the drone will climb back up and return to the pharmacy. You can then pick up your package without interaction with the drone.

You cannot get other products delivered with your medications, whether through drone delivery or standard delivery. Customers cannot receive a mix of other products sold through Amazon, like toothpaste or diapers, with their Amazon Pharmacy medication delivery because Amazon Pharmacy facilities are separately licensed and maintained and do not stock non-clinical items.

Amazon is offering College Station customers drone delivery of prescription medications.
Amazon is offering College Station customers drone delivery of prescription medications.

How Amazon drone delivery works

Since December 2022, Amazon drones have delivered hundreds of household items in College Station. Amazon has a Federal Aviation Administration air carrier certificate required to operate drones with advanced capabilities.

Amazon’s drones fly at an altitude of 40 to 120 meters and use sensors and cameras to navigate around people, pets and power lines. When it arrives at the customer’s home, the drone slowly lowers itself above a delivery marker and releases the package when the coast is clear, after which the drone returns to the delivery center without any interaction with the customer.

“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, in the announcement. “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.”

Amazon Pharmacy launched in late 2020 with the goal of easily and quickly delivering medications — whether by drone or standard delivery. Amazon Pharmacy is available to customers regardless of whether they are Prime members, though Prime members may get additional discounts on the cost of their medications and save on delivery charges.