From a secretive drone testing facility in the Cambridge countryside in England, since the summer, Amazon has been testing a fleet of drones it hopes to put into service delivering packages to customers by air. And today, CEO Jeff Bezos announced on Twitter that an Amazone Prime Air drone had delivered its first package to an English customer in 13 minutes, "click to delivery."
The New York Times sniffed out the location of the testing facility back in October, located on a farm in Worsted Lodge, England, a place that has the benefit of being both rural and boasting "uncharacteristically fast cellphone reception in such a remote area a must when processing drone data." It's also far from the prying eyes of competitors and American journalists, and British regulators have been more lenient than their American counterparts in allowing such drone testing in rural and suburban areas.
The first actual delivery by drone, as the Times reports, was to a man in Cambridgeshire identified as Richard B., on December 7. It came from a nearby warehouse and the drone made just a two-mile flight to deliver "an Amazon Fire streaming device and popcorn."
It seems that Richard must have been a willing test subject, too, because in order to land the Amazon Prime Air drone requires a landing marker pad in a backyard or similar area. And, as the Times notes, the weight limit for drone deliveries is currently just five pounds.
Other companies like Domino's and 7-11 have been testing Flirtey brand drones to deliver food and drinks to customers, with Domino's conducting tests in New Zealand and 7-11 getting FAA approval to do a test delivery in Reno, Nevada. And back in September we heard about Google/Alphabet partnering with Chipotle to deliver burritos on the Virginia Tech campus.
What Amazon is getting to do in England and at another testing facility in Canada, however, is conduct tests in which the drones are flown either out of the line of sight of an operator or without a human operator at all, something that is still outlawed in the US.
And those of us who live in cities likely won't be seeing widespread drone delivery anytime soon simply because of the logistical nightmare involved but as the Times points out, such deliveries in sparsely populated rural areas "could fill an underserved niche of people with limited access to stores."
At least one vocal 78-year-old resident of Worsted Lodge is having none of it, however. Julia Napier, co-founder of Friends of the Roman Road and Fleam Dyke, which helps maintain footpaths in the local area, tells the Times she'd rather shop at her local bookshop. Also, "They are testing those drones here because they can’t do it in America. Whatever the Americans don’t want, I don’t want it, either."