Amazon is partnering with the British government to expand its testing of delivery drones, paving the way for commercial air deliveries for UK residents. The expanded testing, announced today in a press release, involves Amazon working with the UK Civil Aviation Authority to focus on operating drones outside of the line of sight of pilots, improving sensors for obstacle detection and avoidance, and having one pilot operate a team of multiple, semi-autonomous drones in unison. The project is the latest regulatory victory for Prime Air, the online retailer's ambitious program designed to bring cheaper and more forward-thinking delivery logistics in-house.
"The UK is a leader in enabling drone innovation – we’ve been investing in Prime Air research and development here for quite some time," Paul Misener, Amazon’s VP of global innovation policy and communications, said in a statement. "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." Amazon has a history of working with European regulators and poaching talent there for Prime Air; the company recently hired top computer vision experts based in the Austrian city of Graz.
Amazon is putting pressure on the FAA to loosen its drone testing restrictions
The tests are aimed at improving Amazon's drone delivery technology with the ultimate goal of launching a fully operational package delivery fleet. They also serve as a way to pressure the US's Federal Aviation Authority, which has made it difficult to test and operate commercial drones in the country. "This ground-breaking work will help Amazon and the government understand how drones can be used safely and reliably in the logistics industry," reads the press release. "It will also help identify what operating rules and safety regulations will be needed to help move the drone industry forward."
Just last month, the FAA issued new rules to govern the use of drones by commercial operators in the US. While the new guidelines eliminated the requirement that drone operators have a pilot's license, they still require drone operators to maintain a line of sight, stay below 400ft, and use vehicles no more than 55 pounds. Those restrictions prohibit Amazon from performing a majority of the tests it will soon conduct in the UK, creating the possibility that British residents will have commercial drone delivery far earlier than Amazon customers in the company's home country.