First customer received drone-delivered Prime Air order in just 13 minutes.
Amazon has begun a commercial trial of its Prime Air autonomous drone delivery service, beginning with a single fulfilment centre in Cambridge, England. The first delivery, which took place on December 7, took just 13 minutes from the customer placing an order. There’s a promotional video of the first Prime Air delivery embedded below.
To begin with, just two Amazon customers have been invited into the Prime Air trial, and they both live near the fulfilment centre. The customers can request drone delivery seven days a week, but only during daylight hours, and the weather has to be within certain parameters. The first Prime Air delivery, in case you were wondering, was an Amazon Fire TV stick and a bag of popcorn.
If the video accurately shows the process, a Prime Air delivery currently goes something like this:
The customer places an order
The order is packed at the Amazon warehouse by a human
The box is placed on a conveyor belt and picked up by the drone
The drone glides down a track until it’s outside
The drone takes off and flies autonomously (with GPS) to the customer’s location
The drone spots a special marker on the ground in a field
The drone lands on the marker and leaves the package behind
The happy customer treks out to the field and picks up the package.
Amazon says it will eventually expand the trial to a few dozen, and then a few hundred shoppers who live within range of the Cambridge warehouse. As far as we’re aware, the current stock of battery-powered Prime Air drones (which look quite different from last year’s drones) still have a maximum capacity of 5 pounds (2.3kg).
Prime Air was originally announced way back in December 2013. At some point, possibly because there are fewer firearms in the UK, primary development of Prime Air appears to have shifted to Amazon’s research centre in Cambridge, England. Late in 2015 the company released a teaser video starring Jeremy Clarkson, and in October this year Amazon let a few journalists peek inside the Cambridge drone lab.
On the regulatory side of things, Amazon has struck a deal with the Civil Aviation Authority in the UK to operate multiple drones beyond line of sight. No such deal has yet been struck in the US, though the FAA did recently allow another company to operate drones beyond line of sight, perhaps eventually paving the way for a Prime Air trial.
In both countries, some kind of air traffic control system for drones will probably be required before wide-scale autonomous deliveries are approved.