Amazon is joining forces with the UK government to test drone delivery systems in rural and suburban Britain for the first time.
The tech giant is capitalising on the country’s flexible drone regulations in a bid to realise its commitment to 30 minute Prime Air deliveries.
The Guardian reported that the drones will only carry packages weighing 5lb (2.3kg) or less, but such deliveries constitute 90% of the company’s sales.
The testing was approved by a cross-government team supported by the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and will focus on three key areas.
The first, called “beyond line of sight operations”, involves a pilot flying a drone that they cannot see.
The second assesses the viability of using sensors to identify and avoid obstacles. Many are concerned about the privacy implications of drones that are piloted using cameras.
Finally, the testing will look at whether it’s possible for one pilot to simultaneously coordinate the flights of several highly-automated drones.
Paul Misener, Amazon’s vice-president of global innovation policy and communications, said: “The UK is a leader in enabling drone innovation – we’ve been investing in Prime Air research and development here for quite some time.”
Amazon and Google’s drone programmes suffered a major setback in the US last month when the Obama administration refused to approve requests for flights beyond a pilot’s vision.
The CAA will work closely with Amazon to evaluate the safety of increasingly automated drone flights and draw up policy and regulation.
Tim Johnson, CAA policy director, said in a statement: “We want to enable the innovation that arises from the development of drone technology by safely integrating drones into the overall aviation system.
“These tests by Amazon will help inform our policy and future approach.”
There are conflicting reports about how much the drone industry could contribute to the economy, but it’s estimated to provide several thousands of jobs in the UK alone.
A BI Intelligence report predicts that drone sales will top $12bn in 2021.