Amazon Prime Air makes its first drone delivery

The ecommerce giant's drone delivery program hit a big milestone in the UK, where it's running a private drone trial with two customers.
Written by Stephanie Condon, Senior Writer

Amazon Prime Air made its first fully autonomous drone delivery to a customer in Cambridge, UK on Dec. 7, 2016.

Amazon Prime Air hit a milestone this month, launching its first drone delivery in a private trial in the Cambridge area of England.

The Dec. 7 delivery was fully autonomous -- from the take off to landing, and including the return trip, it took 13 minutes to deliver the package.

Prime Air's beta trial has so far only made deliveries to two customers, though Amazon said it plans to extend the trial in the coming months to "dozens" of people who live within several miles of the Amazon UK facility equipped with drones. Amazon is only permitted to operate its drones during daylight hours when there's low wind and good visibility. It plans to use the trial to improve the safety and reliability of its systems and operations.

The unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) fly below 400 feet and are designed to carry packages up to five pounds. Amazon intends to use the drones for trips that take 30 minutes or less.

Along with the UK, Amazon has Prime Air development centers in the US, Austria, and Israel. While they're testing vehicles in multiple locations, Amazon said they'll only deploy the program "when and where we have the regulatory support needed to safely realize our vision."

In July, Amazon announced it had permission from the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to explore beyond line-of-sight drone control in rural and suburban areas.

In the US, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)'s initial drone regulations effectively prohibit commercial drone deliveries, since drones must stay within a pilot's line of sight and cannot fly directly over people.

However, the FAA is working with private companies and other entities to develop broader rules, and companies have been performing their own tests. In September, UPS announced it has started testing the use of drones for urgent deliveries in difficult-to-access locations within the US. And in July, 7-Eleven partnered with Flirtey to accomplish the first fully autonomous drone delivery from a store to a customer's home in the US.

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