We wrote an article about Amazon and drone delivery in May 2016 called “How Real is the Amazon Drone Dream” in which we discussed the major practical issues and air regulations facing Amazon in the UK today. Here is a update of our current thoughts in August 2016 following a very significant announcement.
Amazon issued a press release on 25th July via newswire, the global press release distributor owned by Berkshire Hathaway, which was reported in every British daily newspaper with a wide variety of sensational and extreme headlines.
Amazon and UK Government Aim for the Sky with Partnership on Drones
New Program Will Explore the Safe Use of Drones for Delivery
Amazon has today announced a partnership with the UK Government to explore the steps needed to make the delivery of parcels by small drones a reality, allowing Amazon to trial new methods of testing its delivery systems.
A cross-Government team supported by the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has provided Amazon with permissions to explore three key innovations: 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.
“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. “This announcement strengthens our partnership with the UK and 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.”
This ground-breaking work will help Amazon and the Government understand how drones can be used safely and reliably in the logistics industry. It will also help identify what operating rules and safety regulations will be needed to help move the drone industry forward.
“Using small drones for the delivery of parcels will improve customer experience, create new jobs in a rapidly growing industry, and pioneer new sustainable delivery methods to meet future demand,” said Misener. “The UK is charting a path forward for drone technology that will benefit consumers, industry and society.”
As the UK’s aviation safety regulator, the CAA will be fully involved in this work to explore the potential for safe use of drones beyond line of sight. The outcomes of these tests will help inform the development of future policy and regulation in this area.
“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.”
Amazon Prime Air
Prime Air is a future delivery system from Amazon designed to safely get packages up to 5 pounds to customers in 30 minutes or less using small drones. For more information on Prime Air, visit www.amazon.com/primeair.
Drone Photography Services feel this is a significant announcement because it allows Amazon to test three major things:
- beyond 500 yards and line of sight operations
- testing sensors to detect and avoid objects
- multiple consecutive flights operated by one person
There is no doubt that Amazon will invest the money and resources in this research as this is effectively a controlled green light in the UK, which is a major market for Amazon with worldwide respect for Airspace regulations.
The wording of the two main headings are very significant.
“Amazon and UK Government Aim for the Sky with Partnership on Drones”
“New Program Will Explore the Safe Use of Drones for Delivery”
The measured response from Tim Johnson CAA Policy Director is also important “These tests by Amazon will help inform our policy and future approach.”
So what is a realistic timescale and how has this Amazon announcement affected our existing views.
We think that Amazon could prove and put forward a strong case for beyond line of sight operations within the next 2 years.
But the idea of detecting and avoiding objects is a massive hurdle to overcome. Even with the DJI Phantom 4, any operator who flies drones commercailly know how difficult it is to detect overhead telephone or power cables. Then you have got many other type of overhead wires that are near impossible to detect unless you view them close up with the naked eye.
For multiple flights by one operator we think Amazon will develop sophisticated ATC and failsafe systems to support human operators, but this is a few years away and the safety issues will be huge.
But lets role forward a few years and speculate, after all of the Amazon Prime Research if a workable logistics drone system emerges, then the UK Government will have to make it accessible to all logistics companies. In our option it will be politically impossible to grant Amazon any level of exclusivity.
Here is the first popular Amazon Prime YouTube promoting their system with over 16 million views.