Although it was announced years ago, Amazon’s drone idea took a while to get off the ground. It has hit a number of technical and legal snags. As a result, we’re only just in the early rollout phases, around six years on from the project first being announced. Technical hurdles the company had to overcome involved designing a drone that could operate autonomously, make deliveries within 30 minutes, carry at least five pounds, and have a range of ten miles. Amazon says more than 24 prototypes were designed, built, and tested in nine years.
Amazon also had to contend with a slew of regulatory and legal hurdles. You can’t just operate a vast array of drones without government bodies like the Federal Aviation Authority getting involved. Amazon’s drone plans eventually got the go-ahead from the FAA in 2020. David Carbon, Vice-President of Prime Air, described the approval as “an important step forward” before adding that it “indicates the FAA’s confidence in Amazon’s operating and safety procedures for an autonomous drone delivery service that will one day deliver packages to our customers around the world.” Amazon was not actually the first company to receive government approval for a drone delivery service. UPS led the way after getting the green light from the government body in October 2019.
Last year, Amazon scaled back its drone operation in the U.K., cutting staff numbers at Amazon Prime Air by around 100. The pilot scheme had been going for over three years, and there isn’t a definite answer on why staff numbers were cut and the project was seemingly wound down. Despite the downgrade, Amazon did insist it wasn’t abandoning its U.K.-based drone delivery service and that it would continue even after the cuts.