Amazon has carried out its first public drone delivery demonstration in the U.S. as a Prime Air drone delivered a box of sunscreen to an outdoor location at the Amazon-hosted MARS 2017 conference in Palm Springs, CA.
MARS (an acronym for machine learning, automation, robotics and space exploration) is an invitation-only conference. Video of the delivery was taken by a conference attendee and published by Recode.
The video shows an autonomously-operating Prime Air quadcopter drone leaving the four-pound box of sunscreen on a small landing pad in the middle of a grassy field at the conference, and then taking off again. Amazon told Recode the demonstration was completed with the Federal Aviation Administration’s knowledge.
A year ago we would have said this was a big day for Amazon and the drone delivery market, but so much has happened since then that, well, this is the sort of occasion for which the shrug emoji was created. Is it a step forward for Amazon's drone delivery ambitions? The only thing that is really new here is the location of the demonstration and perhaps the number of people who witnessed it, as Amazon already completed a commercial drone delivery in the U.K. back in December.
A public drone delivery demonstration, even one managed by Amazon software without human operator involvement, arguably is less impressive than the multiple-delivery drone program Flirtey ran with 7-Eleven last year, and no more impressive the recent public demonstration by UPS and Workhorse, which at least showed off some new thinking about broader drone delivery logistics. Amazon's delivery in Palm Springs, while not in the lab, happened very much under its control and in a friendly environment.
Since this demonstration was carried out with the FAA's assistance, we probably can assume means asked the agency to give it approval for a limited, tightly-controlled test, and the FAA said, "Yeah, go ahead." All in all, it seems like a pretty low-stakes demonstration. We know we suddenly sound like drone delivery snobs, but we've seen a lot of these tests and demos, and tests and demos are all we're likely to see for a few years. Gartner recently suggested the market will remain miniscule through 2020, and U.S. drone regulations might not arrive until then, so get used to publicity stints and "me-too" pilot programs as drone delivery players look to remind us every once ina while that they are still drone delivery believers.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about this drone delivery demonstration was the conference where it occurred: MARS 2017. We're actually a little more interested to hear what everyone there had to say about machine learning, automation, robotics and space exploration — at least three of those concepts are real markets already, which is more than we can say for the drone delivery space. Amazon's drone delivery team better hope the e-commerce giant doesn't make it to the red planet before drone delivery becomes an everyday occurrence.