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Amazon answers calls of the hungry with first drone delivery

Amazon Prime Air

Amazon has completed its first delivery via an unmanned drone to a customer in Cambridge ordering popcorn and an Amazon Fire TV (surprise, surprise).

The delivery was made last week and while the drone was only in the air for 13 minutes, it was certainly a step forward for an idea which has been discussed at length in the industry. There are only two customers in the trial for the moment, though this will be expanded, as will the range of the deliveries in the coming months.

While this has been a much-discussed innovation in the industry to date, there have been numerous concerns over the safety of using unmanned aerial drones in populated areas. What is important to note is this is a very small-scale private trial for the moment, and much will change before the offering becomes a commercial reality.

“Our vehicles will be built with multiple redundancies, as well as sophisticated “sense and avoid” technology,” the team said on the Amazon website. “Additionally, through our private trial in the UK, we will gather data to continue improving the safety and reliability of our systems and operations.”

Amazon’s venture in the world of drone delivery began back in 2013 when CEO Jeff Bezos featured on ’60 Minutes All Access’ to discuss the Prime Air idea, though few believed it would be achievable in such a short period of time.

Real progress in the UK however begun in July when Amazon was given permission by the UK Civil Aviation Authority to explore three key areas; beyond line of sight operations in rural and suburban areas, testing sensor performance to make sure the drones can identify and avoid obstacles, and flights where one person operates multiple highly-automated drones. It was one of the first advancements in the UK, though Amazon is not alone worldwide in investigating the area.

Over in Auckland, New Zealand, Domino’s Pizza has been working alongside Flirtey with the ambition to launch the first commercial drone delivery service in the world.

Elsewhere in the world, other regulators have been less welcoming to the testing of such projects. In the states, the Federal Aviation Administration has relaxed rules on commercial use of drones, though there are still several conditions. The drones must be operated by a pilot who has passed a written test and is at least 16 years old, drones can be flown only below 400 feet, during the day, with the drone in line of sight and at least five miles away from airports. It’s not a deal breaker, but when countries like the UK and New Zealand are being a bit more accommodating, why not do the testing there?

It is a positive step forward, though it is a small one. Amazon has pointed out that while this has been a successful test it is still testing what drone/s would be best suited to certain environments or delivering different products. The Prime Air development centres are currently located in the United States, the United Kingdom, Austria and Israel, where the reliability and efficiency of drones and delivery mechanisms are being tested.

Another area of concern surrounding the development of drones is the effectiveness of the network and whether current infrastructure advanced enough to allow for the safe operation of drones on a mass scale. 4G LTE and the developing 5G and Mobile Edge Computing technologies will be important, as low latency and exceptional reliability and resiliency will be crucial. Taking this into consideration, the recent report from National Infrastructure Commission slamming UK 4G will not be welcomed news.

Overall, this is a positive move for the drone segment, though it is only a small step. Technology may be nearing a stage where such innovations are possible, though experience should tell that it might take a while for regulators and rule makers to catch up.

 

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