Amazon announced today that it has started a private drone delivery trial in the UK. The project is currently engaged with only two shoppers who can now order thousands of items to be delivered to their home by drone. The first delivery was completed on December 7th. Amazon plans to grow the trial to a larger sample group. Soon hundreds of shoppers who live near Amazon's first Prime Air fulfillment center near Cambridge in the UK will be eligible for this rapid delivery service.
Amazon has made considerable technological and procedural progress since the initial proposals made several years ago. The drones are loaded in a fulfillment center and then they are moved out to a launch area that is overlooked by the aircraft control team. The flights happen autonomously from takeoff to landing and back to the fulfillment center. The system and aircraft are built to ensure delivery takes place within 30 minutes of the shoppers mouse click.
An Amazon Fire TV and a bag of popcorn had the honor of the first delivery. The process took 13 minutes from the time the customer placed the order to the time the package was sitting in the shopper's yard. The drones will be able to carry packages up to five pounds.
The trial period service is available seven days a week but is limited to daylight hours and good weather.
The delivery location is determined by a coded mat that the shopper rolls out in their yard. The mat is used as a landing pad for the aircraft.
Amazon has stated that it intends to test multiple types of aircraft. The configuration in this video shows a four-rotor helicopter with blades in a down thrust configuration. Other videos indicated that Amazon was pursuing a hybrid design that would allow vertical takeoff followed be efficient, wing-borne forward flight. The aircraft in this video is likely a proven and reliable system but it probably does not have the long distance capabilities for the Amazon's ultimate plans.
Prime Air has been testing its drones in several locations around the world. Amazon recently set up a lab in Austria where a team of computer scientists are working on computer vision-based sense-and-avoid technologies.