(Pocket-lint) - Amazon has announced that its Prime Air drone delivery programme is now making deliveries in the UK.
It's already delivered to two customers and will expand to more customers soon. But the trial is restricted to rural farmlands and will only deliver small items within close proximity to Amazon's UK facility equipped with drones. Here's everything you need to know about Amazon Prime Air.
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What is Amazon Prime Air?
Well, let's start off with Amazon Prime, Amazon's membership program that gives customers access to streaming video, music, ebooks, free shipping, including two-day shipping, for $99/£79 a year. In an effort to load Prime with more Amazon-specific services and deals, Amazon is developing Prime Air - a delivery system designed to get packages to customers in 30 minutes or less using unmanned aerial vehicles (aka drones).
Amazon first revealed plans for Amazon Prime Air in 2013. Check out some of Pocket-lint's coverage here:
- Amazon Prime Air drones tested in Canada: Deliveries within 30 mins
- Amazon to begin Prime Air Drone delivery testing, in India
How does Amazon Prime Air work?
As to how the drone delivery process actually works, Amazon has been vague with releasing details. But, from what we can tell, customers who qualify for drone delivery can select the option during checkout (just like they would two-day shopping), then they print off a QR code supplied by Amazon, and stick it outside their house, on the lawn, like signage. The QR code acts like a beacon, allowing the drone to find the customer's delivery location and safely land.
Amazon released the video above to show how Prime Air works in the UK.
What qualifies for Amazon Prime Air delivery?
To qualify for 30-minute drone delivery, the order must be less than five pounds (2.26kg) and small enough to fit in the cargo box that the drone will carry. The recipient must also be within a 10-mile radius of a participating Amazon fulfillment center. In the UK, Amazon is only permitted to operate its drones, which fly below 400 feet, during daylight when there's low wind and good visibility.
On 7 December, Prime Air delivered its first order in the UK: an Amazon Fire TV and a bag of popcorn. Amazon said it took 13 minutes for the customer to get the package in Cambridge via Amazon's own specialised drone.
What kind of drones does Amazon use?
When Amazon first unveiled its drone, dubbed the Prime Air Drone, it showed off an octocopter with eight rotors. It weighed 25kg and could carry up to 2.26kg at speeds of 80kph. However, Amazon recently published a bunch of videos of its drones. In those clips, the drones seemed to be smaller with no fixed wings. They actually appeared very different from the original drones, which were more massive with fixed wings.
Where is Amazon testing Prime Air?
Amazon has Prime Air development centers in the US, as well as in the UK, Austria, and Israel. It plans to test drones in multiple international locations, but the company has started trials in the UK, rather than the US, because it's received permission from regulators in the country.
In July, the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) provided Amazon with permissionto test drone operations in rural and suburban areas, as well as permission to test drone sensor performance essential to identifying and avoiding obstacles. It also received permission to test flights where one person operates multiple highly-automated drones. The company said it's working with regulators and policymakers in other countries, too.
In the US, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)'s initial drone regulations essentially prohibited commercial drone deliveries, as drones must stay within a pilot's line of sight and cannot fly directly over people. But the FAA is working with private companies and developing broader rules. In September, for instance, UPS announced it started testing the use of drones for urgent deliveries in hard-to-reach areas in the US.
When will Amazon Prime Air be available?
Amazon Prime Air is in a beta in the UK right now. According to The Wall Street Journal, Amazon said it will expand its test from two customers in a roughly 5-square-mile area of farmland to "dozens" more in the coming months.
Want to know more?
Check out Amazon Prime Air's website for more details.