Amazon completed its first Prime Air drone delivery in the U.K. last week under a limited trial program involving only two beta customers, indicating plans to eventually expand the pilot to more customers living within a few miles of its Prime Air fulfillment center in Cambridge.
The test flight, heralded on Twitter by Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, occurred on Dec. 7, involved an Amazon Fire TV device and a box of popcorn, and reportedly took about 13 minutes from the time of order placement to delivery.
The drone used was a quadcopter, and not the hybrid plane/quadcopter design that Amazon had showcased in previous tests. The drone is capable of carrying a five-pound package on a line-of-sight path, had to pass safety protocols before taking flight, and was steered to land on a small landing pad in the customer’s backyard.
Much of the excitement that surrounded the drone delivery sector coming into 2016 was grounded when the Federal Aviation Administration introduced commercial drone regulations that didn’t include rules for drone delivery services. The FAA also said it wasn’t going to get around to drone delivery guidelines anytime soon.
In the aftermath of the FAA’s deflation of this intriguing market opportunity, Amazon — appearing pretty frustrated by a lack of action on a sector it helped create — moved most of its drone delivery development to the U.K., aligning itself with the Civil Aviation Authority there.
So this trial, which is very tiny at the moment, is Amazon’s attempt to get back on track with drone delivery in some form. It’s certainly a step forward in the company’s plans, though difficult to get too excited about right now, as other parties, including 7-Eleven, have put on similar demonstrations.
Drone delivery certainly is not dead, but companies wanting to pursue it have had to dial back their ambitions. Perhaps Amazon can quickly expand its trial and get positive market responses so it can begin to realize its drone delivery dreams — just not in the U.S.