UK government paves way for Amazon Prime Air trials

Amazon is working with regulator CAA to enable trials of Amazon’s Prime Air drone to take off in the UK

The UK Government has begun work with Amazon to look at the viability of using drone technology to delivery online orders.

The initiative will enable Amazon to trial new methods of testing its delivery systems.

Through an agreement with the government and Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), Amazon will be allowed to test flying drones beyond line of sight, overcoming one of the biggest barriers to drones flying across UK airspace.

The CAA currently stipulates that drones must fly no further than 500m, but Amazon will look at testing operations in rural and suburban areas, where its drones will be flying distances of up to 15 miles

Amazon said the tests will enable it to assess the performance of the sensors on the drones to make sure the drones can identify and avoid obstacles.

It will also be working with the CAA to demonstrate how a single pilot could control multiple drones in flight simultaneously.

“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.”

The retailer is working in Cambridge on software-defined aviation.

Speaking recently about the company’s drone development, Daniel Buchmueller, Prime Air UK lead at Amazon, said: “Amazon prioritises what is most important for our customers.”

He said Amazon wanted to find a way for customers to receive items they buy online as fast as possible. Given the fact that the airspace above towns is empty, Amazon could deliver small packages quickly and efficiently using drones, he added.

Read more about drones

  • Facebook is ready to test a UK-developed drone that is designed to fly in a circle with a radius of about 1.8 miles and provide internet coverage for an area with a radius of 30 miles.
  • Airline easyJet has trialled the use of drones to carry out automated testing on aircraft.

“Technology for drones is developing rapidly. In the future it will be more efficient to have a bag of freshly ground coffee delivered straight to your home than to get in a car and collect it.”

The company is currently developing drone technology in the UK, US, Austria and Israel where it operates indoor testing. The UK site also provides outdoor testing.

Along with developing the hardware, robotics and artificial intelligence software for the drones, Buchmueller said: “We are working with regulators to make Prime Air available as soon as possible. We are prepared to go wherever we have the regulatory support we need.”

The drones Amazon is developing are able to carry packages of up to 2kg, representing 90% of the deliveries Amazon makes currently, according to Buchmueller.

He claimed Prime Air would improve road safety as it would reduce the number of car trips people take, as well as cut down on delivery vehicles.

Amazon has tested a number of drones from fixed wing aircraft to octocopters. Test vehicles weigh up to 25kg, can travel up to 50mph and are able to deliver a 2kg package in 30 minutes, according to Amazon.

The CAA’s light touch on drone regulations has helped the UK become a leader in this technology. As Computer Weekly previously reported, Facebook is ready to start testing a UK-developed drone that is designed to fly in a circle with a radius of about 1.8 miles and provide internet coverage for an area with a radius of 30 miles.

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Looks like both sides stand to benefit from this trial. I’ll be curious to see how this plays out for the CAA and drones in general.
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