Amazon has completed its first commercial drone delivery, taking place in Cambridge, United Kingdom, and going from warehouse to delivery in just 13 minutes.
The technology company released a video containing real footage of its fully-autonomous electric-powered drone delivering goods from a fulfilment center outside of Cambridge, and delivering it to a local resident.
Named the Amazon Prime Air, the delivery took place on December 7 but was only announced December 14 in the United States. The drone is said to have flown at 400ft (122m) and was guided completely by GPS to its destination. The drone is also said to be capable of carrying up to 5lbs (2.7kg) in weight and travelling for up to 15 miles.
Retail drone delivery takes flight
Amazon has committed its Prime Air delivery service to providing customers with their packages in 30 minutes or less. It is currently running private trials to two residents in Cambridge, which is where its Prime Air fulfilment center is located.
Customers are able to choose the product that they wish to be delivered via Amazon’s app, whereby the electrically-powered, fully autonomous drones receive the notification and are sent down a conveyor belt ready for take-off with the customer package on-board. Supposedly, the drones are able to do everything, from take-off to landing and return, on their own.
The current group of customers will be able to order seven days a week, but only during daylight hours and when the weather is okay to fly, according to TechCrunch.
The drones are fitted with sensor technology, so that they know exactly what is happening in the surrounding areas, ensuring it can ‘sense and avoid’ potential hazards. Once it’s nearby, a notification will be sent to the customer to let them know the delivery is imminent.
It may have only completed a beta test, but, in a clear sign of a prolong commitment to drone delivery in the retail sector, Amazon has said it will use the data and the feedback from this private trial to expand its services to more UK customers over time.
Potential impact for retail and beyond
As it does so, other retailers must surely take notice. Not only is Amazon complicating matters with it Amazon Go stores – allowing customers to shop without queuing for checkouts – but it will now have another potential advantage in the battle for fulfilment.
However, former Amazon managing director and current chairman of Asos, Brian McBride, told Internet of Business that he was excited about the potential of drone delivery.
“People in the retail space, technology space and maybe even people in the carrier space probably fear Amazon too much. They attribute sinister motives to Amazon and actually they don’t think like that. Amazon is not after world domination, they don’t want be a monopoly supplier in every market out there.” Instead, he said with Amazon competing across some 30 categories in 200+ countries, they aim for 5-15 percent market share.
McBride, a keynote speaker at the upcoming Internet of Retail conference, added that too much is also made of Amazon’s use of data, and its ability to personalize experiences for online shoppers.
“Amazon actually doesn’t know very much about its customers. If you think about your relationship with Amazon, they have got credit card details and email address, preferred delivery address, and history of what is purchased.
“But Amazon don’t know if you are male or female, black or white, 16 or 55, because it’s never asked those things, so Amazon is not at all intrusive. What Amazon does know is what you buy and what you like, and it is able to make algorithmic associations that tell it about people who bought this device, bought that book or that toy.”
Navigating safety concerns
That said, it will be interesting to see how quickly Amazon is able to move this project beyond the trail stage. The UK government is more receptive to drone trials that the U.S., for example, but there are still limitations on how far the company can go, particularly in cities due to safety issues.
According to the Guardian, Amazon is currently allowed to test drones that fly beyond line-of-sight in rural and suburban areas; flights where one person operates multiple largely autonomous drones; and sensor performance associated with sense-and-avoid technology.
Drone expert and CEO and founder of Drone Defence, Richard Gill, suggested that safety is one thing and public perception is another.
He told IoB: “Amazon has certainly achieved a mile stone with their first drone delivery, which highlights some of the potential drone technology could offer in the future. However, Amazon, DHL, Apple and Google, who are looking at similar applications, still have some significant problems to overcome.
“It occurs to me that managing the low-level airspace is going to be a complex and expensive problem to solve. They will all have to overcome a negative public perception and other air safety issues. Another challenge they will face will be regulating the airspace to prevent disruption by other drone users, both accidental or malicious.
“Amazon have made a great step in the right direction, paving the way for others, but there is still a long way to go and many serious questions left to answer.”
Brian McBride is a keynote speaker at the upcoming Internet of Retail conference in London, which takes place on 21-22 March 2017.
The Internet of Things possesses the ability to greatly enhance the ways in which retailers are engaging with their customers. Advanced beacon, RFID, Sensor, AI, VR and wearable technologies are offering new ways to improve loyalty and increase revenue. However, disassociation between the business and digital sides of companies coupled with previous project failures and negative consumer feedback is placing strain on new IoT projects.
This 2nd Annual Internet of Retail event will present case studies from some of the world’s leading retailers who have overcome implementation pitfalls and are successfully harnessing IoT to heighten the customer journey