Amazon to trial delivery drones in the UK

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In order to help reduce the pressure on road networks, governments worldwide are looking at ways to reduce the number of vehicles traveling on them, including those carrying goods and freight. Internet shopping giant Amazon has now announced a partnership with the UK government to explore the steps needed to make the delivery of parcels by small drones a reality.

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 (BLOS) 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.

By allowing the company to trial its new delivery systems, the ground-breaking work will help both Amazon and the UK 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. 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 the tests will help inform the development of future policy and regulation in this area.

On trial will be Amazon’s Prime Air future delivery system, which is designed to safely get packages weighing up to 5 lb (2.2kg) to customers in 30 minutes or less using small drones. Progress has been slow since the company initially announced its intentions to trial the use of drones, with regulators in the USA giving Amazon little assistance in its efforts to conduct real-world tests of the technology. Actually implementing the service on any scale has looked even more remote. Last month, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) introduced revamped laws around commercial flight, as it still remains illegal for pilots to fly drones out of line of sight, fly them over populated areas, or operate more than one at a time.

“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. 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. The UK is charting a path forward for drone technology that will benefit consumers, industry and society.”

CAA policy director Tim Johnson commented, “We want to enable the innovation that arises from the development of drone technology, by safely integrating drones into the overall aviation system. These tests by Amazon will help inform our policy and future approach.”

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Tom has edited Traffic Technology International magazine and the Traffic Technology Today website since he joined the company in May 2014. Prior to this he worked on some of the UK's leading consumer magazine titles including Men's Health and Glamour, beginning his career in journalism in 1997 after graduating with a law degree from the London School of Economics (LSE).

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