– Amazon to begin testing same-day delivery drones in Cambridge (Guardian, Nov 12, 2014):
Online retailer expands R&D operations in England, two years after buying Cambridge-based startup Evi Technologies
Amazon is planning to test drones in Cambridge, England, as the battle to offer consumers same-day deliveries heats up.
The US company announced with considerable fanfare late last year that it was considering using drones as a way of dramatically reducing the time it takes to deliver orders to customers. At the time there was speculation that the move was little more than a publicity stunt. But Amazon said in July that it had sought permission from the US Federal Aviation Administration to test drones that could fly as fast as 50 miles per hour for up to 30 minutes at a time to deliver packages weighing up to 2.3kg (5lb).
Amazon is now expanding its R&D operations in Cambridge – two years after buying Cambridge-based startup Evi Technologies – to take advantage of the talent pool of academics and researchers in the area. The lab will focus on Prime Air, Amazon’s name for its drones project, the blog TechCrunch reported.
Amazon has advertised a number of aviation-related UK jobs in recent weeks, such as a flight operations engineer for Amazon Prime Air: “Flight test experience, manned or unmanned, is preferred,” the advertisement stated. Other roles include a senior research scientist position and a site leader job.
Nick Bubb, a retail analyst, believed the idea of making deliveries by drone was impractical and had questionable economics. He added: “Cambridge probably isn’t a bad place to trial drones, as it’s a relatively dry part of the country and aircraft-free, but there are still bound to be accidents and collisions.”
Amazon is exploring a variety of ways to deliver orders faster than the overnight service it currently offers. It has experimented with using taxis in San Francisco and Los Angeles to make multiple deliveries bound for the same location, the Wall Street Journal reported this month. Last month, it introduced its first same-day collection service in Britain using a network of 500 newsagents and convenience stores under the Pass My Parcel brand. The service is only available for customers who sign up to Amazon Prime at a cost of £79 per year, although it also includes access to Prime Instant Video programming.
Google demonstrated its own drone-based delivery service this summer, using a fixed-wing aircraft to deliver packages including chocolate bars, dog treats and cattle vaccines to a farmer in the Australian outback.
In September, German courier company DHL announced the first regular drone delivery service, nine months after it launched its “parcelcopter” project. It will use an autonomous quadcopter to deliver small parcels to Juist, a sandbar island 7.45 miles (12km) off the German coast in the North Sea that is inhabited by 2,000 people. Deliveries will include medication and other urgent goods.
Although the flights are automated, DHL says the deliveries will be constantly monitored by a ground station to ensure safety and compliance with air traffic regulations.
A spokeswoman for Amazon Prime Air said: “We have multiple Prime Air development centers, including R&D labs in Seattle and Cambridge. We’re always looking to add great talent to the team; the Cambridge-based Prime Air positions we have open are a reflection of that.”