Amazon to begin UK testing of delivery drones

Posted on 26 Jul 2016 by Michael Cruickshank

Ecommerce and digital technology company, Amazon has today announced that it will begin advanced testing of drone systems in the UK.

The drones in question are part of Amazon’s widely publicized Prime Air program, which seeks to use small, unmanned aircraft to deliver packages to consumers.

In the UK, the company has recently signed a deal with the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to allow for more complex testing of its drones.

Specifically, Amazon will now be allowed to test beyond line of sight drone operations in rural and suburban areas, as well as flights where a single drone operator controls a number of craft.

The craft used in these tests will be “highly automated” and will make use of a variety of sensors to autonomously avoid obstacles.

“The UK is a leader in enabling drone innovation – we’ve been investing in Prime Air research and development here for quite some time,” said Paul Misener, Amazon’s vice president of global innovation policy and communications.

The goal of Prime Air is to deliver goods bought from Amazon’s online store, to customers in as short a time period as possible.

“This announcement […] brings Amazon closer to our goal of using drones to safely deliver parcels in 30 minutes to customers in the UK and elsewhere around the world,” Misener continued

As well, both the UK government and Amazon hope these newly-approved tests will help establish new legal and regulatory best practices for the operation of commercial drone aircraft.

“We want to enable the innovation that arises from the development of drone technology by safely integrating drones into the overall aviation system,” said Tim Johnson, CAA Policy Director. “These tests by Amazon will help inform our policy and future approach.”

While these flights will only be allowed in certain ‘controlled spaces’ they nonetheless represent the most extensive tests of the technology to date.

So far, the most recently disclosed iteration of the Prime Air drone is a small hybrid craft which can hover and land vertically, before flying horizontally like an aircraft.

Despite these innovative designs, this sort of drone technology still faces considerable technical hurdles including battery life and autonomous navigation.

For these reasons, as well as ongoing regulatory problems, Amazon is yet to set a date for when it aims to bring Prime Air to consumers.