The UK says it will allow Amazon to test its delivery drone technology on British soil, after US regulators once again rejected the tech giant’s proposals last month.
Amazon will now shift its focus to Britain after the country's Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) gave it permission to test drone flights beyond line of sight in rural and suburban areas, and with a single person operating more than one device at once.
The regulatory approval means Amazon will be able to test the real-life performance of its sensor-enabled crash prevention technology, bringing it closer to realising its vision of a fleet of autonomous flying machines that will deliver goods to customers within 30 minutes of an online order.
Jeff Bezos unveiled his vision for ‘Prime Air’, a fleet of autonomous UAVs ferrying goods weighing up to 2.3kg from Amazon warehouses to customers with little human intervention, back in 2013.
The e-commerce behemoth has been lobbying the US Federal Aviation Administration for approval to carry out trials beyond line of sight and using largely automated navigation ever since.
The FAA issued revised drone rules last month that relaxed some commercial use restrictions, but still blocked the kinds of tests Amazon wants, citing safety concerns.
In a swipe at the company’s home government, Amazon’s global innovation boss Paul Misener described the UK as a “leader in enabling drone innovation”.
“We’ve been investing in Prime Air research and development here for quite some time,” he said in a statement.
Amazon and the UK government said the trials would likely inform future reforms to safety regulations, by testing the boundaries of what can be carried out safely using modern technology.
“We want to enable the innovation that arises from the development of drone technology by safely integrating drones into the overall aviation system,” Civil Aviation Authority policy director Tim Johnson said in a statement.
“These tests by Amazon will help inform our policy and future approach.”
Closer to home, Australia Post is also experimenting with drone deliveries, particularly in rural and remote areas. However, local regulator CASA also prohibits flights beyond the line of sight unless an operator has obtained special approval.