Amazon Begins Delivery Drone Testing in UK

Jul 26, 2016

The United Kingdom's version of the Federal Aviation Administration, the Civil Aviation Authority, has given Amazon the green light to begin testing their "Prime Air" delivery drone service in the UK, it was announced Tuesday.

The e-commerce giant said the partnership they've formed with U.K. aviation regulators will allow it to test and develop new drone delivery systems.

Hampered by regulations, the airborne delivery program is still years away in America but the testing that will occur in the UK may help shorten that wait.

They will be testing drone flights that extend beyond a pilot's line of sight in both rural and suburban settings, checking the functionality of censors built into the drones that will allow them to automatically change course to avoid obstacles, and conducting test flights with one pilot operating several drones simultaneously.  All important permissions that the company has not been able to secure in the U.S.

US Delivery Drone Program Grounded by Red Tape and Regulation

A massive 624-page rule-book from the Federal Aviation Administration covers rules for drone operation in America. They allow commercial drones weighing up to 55 pounds to fly only during daylight hours and only in the line of sight of the pilot - or a spotter who is in communication with the pilot.

The operators must be pass an aeronautics test every 24 months for a certificate as well as a background check by the Transportation Security Administration.

The goal of the "Prime Air" delivery drone program is for packages of up to 5 pounds to be delivered in 30 minutes or less.

The United Kingdom is a leader in drone innovation, one reason Amazon has a Prime Air research and development facility there, said Paul Misener, Amazon's vice president of Global Innovation Policy and Communications.

"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."

Earlier this month Amazon was awarded a patent that would allow lamp posts, church steeples and other high points to be turned into docking stations for drones.

Image: Amazon, US Patent Office
Image: Amazon, US Patent Office

Amazon claims that not only would the perches be used as charging and re-supply stations, but they could also act as cell towers that "provide local free or fee-based Wi-Fi services. This can enable cities to provide free Wi-Fi in public parks, buildings, and other public areas without bearing the burden of installing some, or all, of the necessary infrastructure."

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