Amazon will now fly things to people’s houses to deliver them.
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos announced on Wednesday that it has started a small private drone delivery trial. The company had completed its first fully autonomous Prime Air delivery to an Amazon customer, dropping an order off at customer’s house just 13 minutes after they’d ordered it.
It happened in the UK, where someone named Richard ordered an Amazon Fire Stick streaming device and a bag of popcorn and found the goods at his doorstep in the Cambridge-shire countryside 13 minutes later. It’s currently working with only two shoppers who can now order their goods by drone. The only human input on Amazon’s side was from the person who packed up the box the drone carried. The drones are loaded in a fulfillment center and then rolls out of the hall on rails, after which they take off. The full flight happens autonomously, including the landing, and the idea is to ensure that all deliveries arrive within 30 minutes.
The first successful delivery test was on December 7th and drone didn’t fly too far. The first product the drone delivered was an Amazon Fire TV and a bag of popcorn. The process took 13 minutes from the time the customer entered the order to the time the package was delivered. The drones will be able to carry packages up to five pounds.
“It looks like science fiction, but it’s real,” Amazon said. “One day, seeing Prime Air vehicles will be as normal as seeing mail trucks on the road.”
Amazon tells us that the current batch of customers will be able to order seven days a week, but only during daylight hours and when the weather is okay to fly. Now customer will be able to order a specific set of products (weighing less than 5 lbs. per order, as the small drones can carry only so much) and have them delivered by drone, at no extra cost, any day of the week during daylight hours, weather permitting. But in future, Amazon plans to expand this trial to a few dozens and later to hundreds of shoppers who live within a few miles of its first Prime Air fulfillment center around Cambridge in the UK, where we can press a button, and have a flying robot deliver it faster than Domino’s can deliver a pizza is slowly coming into view.
The company says the delivery, which took place last week, involved fully autonomous flight, with no human pilot involved in the process. The success was announced by Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos, who tweeted: “first ever #AmazonPrimeAir customer delivery is in the books. 13 min-click to delivery.” Amazon released a video of the flight but no press was invited to witness the test.
You can see a real delivery happen in the video above. The drone is guided not by a human pilot, but by GPS. It can carry up to five pounds in cargo and takes 13 minutes to arrive after the order is placed.
Judging by the short video that Amazon posted today, which suggests that trial customers will need a large yard where they can drop a landing pad with a code that the drone can then see and land on.
But It’s less clear how drone deliveries would work in cities. The challenge of moving and landing packages in tight quarters will be, Urban drone deliveries are far more difficult than flying to large backyards in the countryside. That, too, though is a problem the company is current trying to solve. where roughly two-thirds of the population lives in urban environments.
The primary issue is that each drone needs to be controlled by a certified operator and must remain in line-of-sight at all times. Amazon wants to send packages many miles away from the warehouse, so that’s not practical.
At the moment, the trials will be limited to the UK – where they are thought to be being carried out in the Cambridge-shire countryside. But eventually they could expand to other countries, depending on the view of authorities.
With less than a handful of beta testers, this is obviously a very small test for the time being, but it does show how serious Amazon is about this project. Don’t expect to see a similar service in the U.S. anytime soon, though. Amazon is able to do this in the UK because it received permission there to operate beyond line-of-sight flights last July. To do so, its drones had to pass extensive safety tests.
Amazon is one of six companies working with NASA and the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on developing an air-traffic management system to integrate autonomous drones into the national airspace by 2019. When this system is in place, and proven to work, it’s possible that we could see fleets of delivery drones hurtling at 400 feet above Broadway. But we’re still in the relatively early stages of development.