Engineers have been spotted testing a prototype drone that should allow Amazon packages to be dropped off safely.
The prototype was seen being lowered up and down by a huge crane as tests are carried out to ensure the drone can avoid obstacles and land safely in gardens.
Seattle-based Amazon is believed to be testing its sophisticated ‘sense and avoid’ technology at a secret location in the Cambridgeshire countryside.
This would enable the drones to eventually fly for ten miles at 400ft (121m) and carry packages of up to 5lbs (2.2kg) to people’s homes in under 30 minutes. The size of the drones is unknown, with various shapes and sizes being tested, but some have been estimated as measuring between 17 and 25 inches wide.
The latest tests come about 18 months after the Civil Aviation Authority lifted strict drone flying restrictions, which enabled Amazon to start testing its drones.
It means the internet giant is allowed to have one pilot controlling multiple autonomous drones and can operate a drone without a direct line of sight.
The CAA, Britain’s aviation regulator, lifted a normal rule that drone operators must have a direct line of sight of their device to allow Amazon to run the trials.
Amazon is permitted to test the drones during daylight hours when there are low winds and good visibility – but not in rain, snowy or icy conditions. MailOnline reported the first footage of the company testing a prototype in September 2016 in an area being constantly patrolled by security men and vans.
Amazon has billed the service ‘Prime Air’ and claims the drones will increase the overall safety and efficiency of its transport system. The company is testing various designs and delivery mechanisms, and has development centres in Britain, the US, Austria, France and Israel.
Amazon has a research and development centre in Cambridge as well as a 500,000 sq ft (46,452 square metre) warehouse in Peterborough.
The American company is working with the Government and the CAA to improve drone technology and test the safety of using drones for home deliveries. Another method of delivery being worked on by the firm is Amazon Key, which allows a delivery person to let themselves into a home to leave parcels inside.
The idea will require customers to have a ‘smart’ lock on their front door and a camera, bought from Amazon, which films the deliverer leaving the package. An Amazon spokesman has been approached for comment by MailOnline today.
What is the law on flying drones?
The Civil Aviation Authority sets the rules on the flying of drones in Britain under an ‘air navigation order’. The CAA says a drone should never be flown near an airport or aircraft, adding that it is a criminal offence ‘to endanger the safety of an aircraft in flight’. Flying a drone near an airport could lead to a five-year prison sentence under current laws. The rules set out by the CAA’s air navigation order state:
- An unmanned aircraft must never be flown beyond the normal unaided ‘line of sight’ of the person operating it – this is generally measured as 1,640ft horizontally or 400ft vertically
- An unmanned aircraft fitted with a camera must always be flown at least 164ft distance away from a person, vehicle, building or structure
- An unmanned aircraft fitted with a camera must not be flown within 492ft of a congested area or large group of people, such as a sporting event or concert
- For commercial purposes, operators must have permission to fly a drone from the CAA