Amazon Tests Delivery Drones in Canada; Cites FAA Lethargy to New Technology

U.S.-based e-Commerce giant Amazon is conducting experimental flights with drones on a secret site in Canada's State British Columbia, The Guardian reported. The test results will be used for its proposed domestic drone delivery services in the U.S., which will be carried out by its subsidiary Prime Air.

Prime Air CEO, Gur Kimchi
Prime Air CEO, Gur Kimchi

The report said that Amazon decided to move to the Canadian side of the border after becoming frustrated in its attempts to persuade U.S. regulators to allow it to launch its drones in Washington State. In recent months, the e-Commerce giant has repeatedly warned that it would go outside the U.S. to bypass what it sees as the U.S. federal government’s lethargic approach to the new technology.

Lack of impetus
The Guardian quoted company officials as saying that Amazon wants to offer its customers the ability to have packages dropped on their doorstep by flying robots within 30 minutes of ordering goods online. With innovation in the drone sector reaching lightning speeds, the company said it was not prepared to curtail its ambitions because of a lack of “impetus” on the U.S. side of the border.

Gur Kimchi, the architect and head of Prime Air, was quoted as saying that the hope had always been to develop the drone service in the U.S., close to the company’s Seattle headquarters. “But we’re limited there to flying indoors and have been now for a very long time. So we do what’s necessary - we go to places where we can test outside, in this case Canada.”

Request remained unanswered
The U.S. regulatory body, Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) recently published a set of guidelines for commercial use of drones, but the new rules will take at least two years to come into effect, a delay which Amazon finds unacceptable. Last July, the company applied for an exemption that would allow it to carry out outdoor experiments immediately. Eight months later, the FAA has not responded.

Earlier model of the Amazon drone  /  company courtesy
Earlier model of the Amazon drone / company courtesy

Last week, the FAA did award the company a so-called “experimental airworthiness certificate” that can be used to test a specific model of drone. However, according to Paul Misener, Amazon's vice president for Global Public Policy: "while the FAA was considering our applications for testing, we innovated so rapidly that the (drone) approved last week has become obsolete. We don’t test it anymore. We’ve moved on to more advanced designs that we already are testing abroad."

New Amazon drone is coming soon
The Guardian said that in the meantime the company’s team of roboticists, software engineers, aeronautics experts and pioneers in remote sensing – including a former NASA astronaut and the designer of the wingtip of the Boeing 787, are testing a range of individual drone capabilities: sensors that can detect and avoid obstacles in a drone’s path; link-loss procedures that control the aircraft should its connection with base be broken; stability in wind and turbulence; and environmental impact.

Once each of these facets has been perfected, a new Amazon prototype drone will be assembled which, company officials claim, will be utterly safe and wholly unlike anything seen before.

Nol van Fenema

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