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Amazon started talking about its plans for Prime Air drone deliveries back in 2013, but at the time the US didn’t even allow commercial use of drone aircraft. Well, things still aren’t ideal for Amazon’s drone deliveries in the US, so it has started the first field test of Prime Air in the UK. A handful of customers in the Cambridge area can place orders with a nearby Amazon warehouse and have products flown over to them in just a few minutes. So, drone deliveries are a thing now — just not a very common thing.

The US Federal Aviation Administration has spent the last few years mulling over how to regulate commercial use of drones, and the rules have not been to the liking of Amazon. The FAA’s rules became official earlier this year, and essentially prohibit Prime Air from operating in the way Amazon wants it to. The primary issue is that each drone needs to be controlled by a certified operator and must remain in line-of-sight at all times. Amazon wants to send packages many miles away from the warehouse, so that’s not practical.

Amazon’s Paul Misener complained to Congress last year that the FAA rules were taking too long to go into effect, and they were still too restrictive to allow Prime Air to be tested. He noted at the time that the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) was being more accommodating in granting permission for Prime Air tests. It appears Amazon has decided to just go with UK testing until such time as US regulators lighten up.

Amazon currently has three electric drone aircraft at its Cambridge facility. That’s one more drone that it has customers, though. Yes, the initial test includes just two people ordering packages. So, drone deliveries technically exist, but next to no one in the world as access to them. The test is also being conducted in a very rural area where there’s not as much to crash into.

You can see a real delivery happen in the video above. The drone is guided not by a human pilot, but by GPS. It can carry up to five pounds in cargo and takes 13 minutes to arrive after the order is placed. A few minutes of that is packaging and loading the drone. The company plans to continue testing in the Cambridge area, expanding to several dozen customers within a few miles of the drone facility. The trial could eventually expand to hundreds of customers. Decisions about launching the service in other areas will be made later, but in the US that will probably require regulatory changes.

 

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