Amazon Prime Air now officially includes a drone fleet after the online retailer made its first customer delivery by drone. The Cambridgeshire delivery took place near Amazon’s UK drone-testing plant, where the company has been working with the government to test longer-distance deliveries.
Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s CEO broke the news on twitter today, announcing that his company had made its first commercial drone delivery, on Dec. 7, delivering electronics and popcorn to a customer from a nearby Amazon warehouse. The delivery lasted 13 minutes, and covered about two miles.
The company plans to expand its testing phase to “dozens, of additional customers” in Cambridgeshire county, eventually expanding the service to “hundreds more.” The facility is a technologically sophisticated instillation that features a small fulfillment center, and partially automated loading and launching capabilities.
Amazon isn’t the first retailer to make headlines with drone deliveries. A collaboration between Flirtey Drone and Domino’s Pizza in New Zealand delivered pizza to a customer last month, and Flirtey has pulled similar stunt in the U.S.
While tech-companies and retailers push forward, detractors point to impediments that must still be overcome. To start with, U.S. aviation rules currently forbid the sort of delivery Amazon just undertook, due to its violation of “line of sight,” restrictions. Drones are also susceptible to weather restrictions, weight limitations on cargo, and sabotage.
U.K. regulators have been more forward-looking that their U.S. counterparts, explaining Amazon’s decision to test there. “The U.K. is a leader in enabling drone innovation,” said Paul Misener, Amazon’s vice president of global innovation policy and communications. “This announcement strengthens our partnership with the U.K. and brings Amazon closer to our goal of using drones to safely deliver parcels in 30 minutes to customers in the U.K. and elsewhere around the world.”
President elect Donald Trump’s choice of Elaine L. Chao as secretary of transportation empowers a Reagan era bureaucrat that was active in an administration known for its deregulation of the aviation industry. Perhaps drone regulations will also fall under the president elect’s promise to excise as many as 70 percent of federal agency regulations. If so, things could get interesting, and potentially messy, fast as business scramble to eliminate costly delivery personnel in favor of flying robots.