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Amazon to start testing drone deliveries

Problems to crack include safely operating out of line of sight and making sure they don't bump into things.

Amazon has partnered with the UK government to test drone deliveries.

The company announced the program on Monday. It opted to test out its Amazon Prime Air delivery in the UK, where rules are more flexible than other countries.

There are three main issues with drone deliveries that Amazon’s looking to crack:

  1. How to safely operate drones beyond an operator’s line of sight, both in rural and suburban areas.
  2. How to ensure sure that drones can detect obstacles and avoid bumping into things.
  3. How to make it safe for one person to operate multiple automated drones.

On its Amazon Prime Air site’s FAQ, the company says it’s evaluating over a dozen prototypes of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), and that the look and characteristics of the drones will evolve over time.

One of those prototypes can be seen in this video.

That particular drone model gets loaded at the warehouse, rises vertically through the roof, then flies horizontally at a height under 400 feet.

It can fly out-of-sight for 15 miles, Amazon says. And, equipped with sensor and avoidance technology for both on-the-ground and airborne obstacles, the drone knows what’s happening around it.

Once it approaches the delivery address, the drone scans the ground for hazards, then lowers itself to deliver the package onto a landing mat that the customer has placed on a safe spot.

According to the BBC, Amazon’s also going to be working on making the UAVs quieter. As far as privacy goes, Amazon says the drones will have sensing technology, but not cameras.

This isn’t just about Amazon: it’s about fashioning rules and regulations that would affect the evolution of the logistics industry as a whole, as it could lead to other businesses adopting drone delivery.

Amazon didn’t give details about how many packages will get dropped in the UK. As far as how big each package might be, they’d have to weigh less than 2.2kg (5lbs), and that covers 80-90% of the things the company sells, according to the BBC.

In other drone-related news, Feds in the US said on Monday that the Department of the Interior is going to deploy anti-drone software to block drones that fly too close to wildfires.

The pilot project deploys a prototype warning system that provides real-time alerts and geofencing alarms to prevent drone pilots from interfering with firefighting operations.

As it is, drones flying too close to fires have hampered firefighters’ efforts in multiple blazes. Last week, California made its first arrest of a drone operator for flying over a fire.

California had tried to pass a 350-foot no-fly zone, but Governor Jerry Brown shot the law down because he said it would be a hassle for both hobbyists and business:

[The bill] could expose the occasional hobbyist and the FAA-approved commercial user alike to burdensome litigation and new causes of action.


Amazon didn’t give details about how many packages will get dropped in the UK.

Eh, I thought the idea was to drop none!

at a height under 400 feet.

When flying this low all sorts of other considerations have to be taken into consideration.

The temptation for people to take pot-shots at drones (even in relatively gun-free UK) has to be high.

At the moment most civil and military aircraft are meant to be several thousand feet up (outside approaches to landing areas), so at around 400 feet we only get a few military aircraft doing low-flying exercises (in defined areas) and emergency services helicopters. To allow commercial craft into this area opens a far wider argument about privacy and the right to enjoyment of “your space”. sensing technology, but not cameras is an interesting phrase – presumably it is splitting hairs about the wavelength of what is being sensed.

Presumably these drones will not be subject to normal air-traffic control (which is border-line saturated at times) but will “autonomously negotiate traffic paths with other occupants of the air space”. As if AmazonDrone, DHLDrone, FedXDrone, TrotterTradingDrone, etc. will co-operate! (Some may recall the Dave Allen sketch of two funerals racing to get to the graveyard first!).


I’d never seen the sketch before…pretty amusing.

For autonomous flight I’d expect these things would require the ability to survive loss of a blade or two and still limp home….or at least make an emergency landing somewhat under control.


Sounds like a good idea, what could possibly go wrong? I wonder if the Brotherhood of Teamsters has an opinion about this. Governor Brown “shot” the law down, I assume that was intentional.


Two important things that “Amazon” doesn’t care about t hat people might: 1. These drones are very very loud, if you live along a distribution path you will be driven insane. 2. Birds will die trying to chase off the drones, one tap from those big blades and dead bird parts everywhere.


Have they made plans for when someone sees an Amazon drone making a delivery and tries to capture it?


No doubt they’ve thorough contingencies against captured drones; one lost vehicle loses the profit on 100 deliveries or more–even if recovered it’ll cost more than dozens of deliveries.

They’ll probably have an “Amazon Air” EULA a mile long that states “if you skip reading this document you’ll *wish* we laid claim to your first born” and defines a sufficiently wide drop area as well as warning the customer any object approaching the descent will abort the landing. Plus it’ll phone home with GPS telemetry, ensuring breadcrumbs when necessary.

Nice comment by Jeremy Clarkson…hahah
“and to be clear, that is the sort of football you play with your feet.”


“Amazon has partnered with the UK government to”

Get a load of free advertising using something that will never happen. Good job the marketing dept.


“In other drone-related news, Feds in the US said on Monday that the Department of the Interior is going to deploy anti-drone software to block drones that fly too close to wildfires.”

Use Hardware, not Software. I’ve got a nice double-barreled hardware drone blocker right here.


It’s going to go nowhere. The spinning blades are a big hazard to a lot of things. Even if you put bumper rings around them, they are still a huge problem. You’ll have problems hitting anttena’s birds, thrown rocks, bottles and other things that will put a 3-5lbs or more item falling onto peoples heads at what, 20, 30, 50 feet? They are loud. They attract so much attention that the chuckle heads will see these things in the sky and the dinner bell will be rang for thieves.

When they have a nice big fluffy beachball looking drone that has a propulsion system that wouldn’t hurt a gnat, then we will have drone deliveries that are practical. Until then, these ideas will die in the first 6 months as every misstep gets sensationalized to the point that people will roam the neigborhoods shooting them down with shotguns.


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