Amazon Makes First Drone Delivery

Online retailer Amazon announced on Wednesday that it has officially made its first customer delivery by drone. The company has been conducting private customer trials for its Prime Air program in the Cambridge, UK area, and is offering delivery to locations within 5.2 square miles from a nearby fulfillment center. Amazon reported that the drone took just 13 minutes from purchase to delivery.

The first drone delivery customer, a man living near Cambridge, ordered a Fire TV and bag of popcorn on December 7. Just 13 minutes later, he retrieved the delivered 4.7-pound package outside his home. The official launch video shows the drone being packed at the fulfillment center, launching from a small platform and landing on a marker pad installed on the customer’s lawn. It flew at an altitude of 400 feet and was guided by GPS, according to Amazon.

To qualify for drone delivery, packages must weigh five pounds or less; an Amazon spokeswoman told the Wall Street Journal that 87% of items sold on Amazon meet the weight limit. The company also says it plans to make deliveries seven days a week during daylight hours, weather permitting. Amazon has consistently billed the Prime Air service as a way for shoppers to receive purchases in 30 minutes or fewer. The successful delivery comes a year after Amazon released its first delivery drone prototype.

While Amazon is initially starting with just two customers for testing purposes, they expect a few dozen Cambridge-area customers will be able to order items on the Prime Air app over the coming months. Amazon plans to make the service available to a few hundred customers over time to collect data on the program.

The delivery makes Amazon the first major retailer to do so. It comes after several years of working to overcome regulatory obstacles as well as skeptics who doubt that drones will ever be used for mass delivery, citing security and safety concerns and overcrowded skies.

“It’s an interesting logistical concept, but not particularly viable in an urban environment,” Ivan Hofmann, a former FedEx executive and transportation consultant, told the Wall Street Journal. “I don’t look for one to deliver in downtown Manhattan anytime soon.”

In August, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration released new drone guidelines that allow the commercial use of drones under certain circumstances, but also require that drones remain in sight of the human operator and cannot fly over people. Regulations have proved less onerous in the UK, which has allowed Amazon to fly drones outside an operator’s line of sight.