Amazon will test Prime Air delivery drones over the UK

Prime Air drone

Amazon will test its drone delivery service in UK skies in partnership with the British government.

A cross-government team supported by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has given the retailer the green light to conduct tests in the UK.

The trials will focus on how well the company's Prime Air drones can identify and navigate obstacles, how they perform when flown beyond the operator's line of sight, and whether a single operator can simultaneously pilot multiple drones.

"The UK is a leader in enabling drone innovation - we've been investing in Prime Air research and development here for quite some time," said Paul Misener, Amazon's vice president of global innovation policy and communications.

"The UK is charting a path forward for drone technology that will benefit consumers, industry and society," said Misener, promising that the introduction of drone delivery would create jobs.

The drones must remain under an altitude of 400ft (122m) and will not be permitted to fly near airport flight paths, as with privately-owned drones.

They will also be restricted to a maximum carry weight of 2.3kg (5lbs) or less, a weight an Amazon spokesperson said comprises 90 per cent of the company's deliveries.

"We want to enable the innovation that arises from the development of drone technology by safely integrating drones into the overall aviation system," said CAA policy director Tim Johnson. "These tests by Amazon will help inform our policy and future approach."

Amazon is also exploring automation in other sectors, with a Dutch robot taking gold in its industrial automation challenge for warehouse bots.

Some, however, have warned of the dangers of deploying automated drones. "They might look pretty innocent, but on closer inspection, what you find can be terrifying," said Colin Bull, principal consultant for manufacturing and product development at SQS.

"Putting it bluntly, these devices are in fact a flying payload system," he said, and called for increased standardisation and regulation of the radio frequencies used for drone control.

Adam Shepherd

Adam Shepherd has been a technology journalist since 2015, covering everything from cloud storage and security, to smartphones and servers. Over the course of his career, he’s seen the spread of 5G, the growing ubiquity of wireless devices, and the start of the connected revolution. He’s also been to more trade shows and technology conferences than he cares to count.

Adam is an avid follower of the latest hardware innovations, and he is never happier than when tinkering with complex network configurations, or exploring a new Linux distro. He was also previously a co-host on the ITPro Podcast, where he was often found ranting about his love of strange gadgets, his disdain for Windows Mobile, and everything in between.

You can find Adam tweeting about enterprise technology (or more often bad jokes) @AdamShepherUK.