Amazon Drone deliveries: everything you wanted to know from kill-switches to pilot licenses to privacy laws

A US regulator has approved Amazon testing of 30-minute delivery flights

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The Independent Online

Amazon’s futuristic plan to make deliveries using drones is one step closer to becoming reality following regulatory approval to test the aircraft from the US Federal Aviation Administration.

The ruling is part of a relaxing of drone rules being considered in the US, where flying the machines for commercial purposes is currently illegal. Amazon told the regulator that unless it was allowed to test in the US, it would do it abroad anyway – all part of its grand plans for Amazon Prime Air.

Wait, why does Amazon want to use drones?

As usual, it comes down to money: Amazon thinks the new technology will help it scale back shipping costs of some $4 billion a year.

So will we all be getting drone delivered Amazon packages soon?

Now Amazon has approval, the technology should move on quickly. The company is reported to be on the ninth generation of its drone, which includes sensors and algorithms that allow the drones to ‘see’ and avoid obstacles. The legal aspect might prove tricker.

Do the drones use letterboxes?

An Amazon advert shows a package being delivered by a drone to the porch of a house in a rural area, just minutes after the resident ordered the package online. The aircraft do not have hands to open letter boxes so they would likely have to deposit packages in open space.

What about if you have no garden and live in a city?

Drones have to comply with strict regulations that require them to fly at least 50m away from individuals, buildings and cars and 150m away from groups of people in the UK– so it’s unclear at the moment how a drone would deliver a package in a city.

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Drones have to comply with strict regulations that require them to fly at least 50m away from individuals, buildings and cars and 150m away from groups of people in the UK

How long do drone deliveries take?

The whole basis of the advertising campaign is that this could offer a 30-minute delivery service. So unless you live within 30-minutes of an Amazon centre for a drone that has a maximum speed of 50 mph, that might prove tricky.

Are they controlled by a computer?

No. Amazon’s drones have operators known as ‘pilot in command’ that must hold a pilot certificate pr have completed Federal Aviation Administration exams. These work with observers, positioned no more than 400 feet above ground level, who keep the drones within their line of sight.

Won’t they only be able to carry the lightest packages?

The drones can carry almost 2.5kg, which is enough to deliver nearly 90 per cent of Amazon packages, the company says.

What about if the drones get lost?

Amazon drones, like commercial drones, have built in technology that tells them to turn around and return to base camp (or Amazon) if communication is lost. In Amazon’s model, the observer also carries a kill-switch that forces a controlled landing if necessary.

Will this only be available for customers in the US?

Actually, because Amazon was pressuring the FAA to loosen the US rules a bit so they could test in the US, we know that the company is already testing drones overseas.

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