Amazon testing parcel deliveries by drones in the UK

The tests will cover remote delivery and single-person control of multiple drones

Amazon.com will be testing the delivery of parcels using small drones in the U.K. in a deal with the government that will allow it to try out new modes of operation such as beyond line of sight flights.

The online retailer, which announced in December 2013 that it planned to use drones for the delivery of parcels, has been stymied by regulations in the U.S., where its futuristic Prime Air delivery system has yet to take off.

The service will cut delivery time of packages weighing up to 5 pounds (2.3 kilograms) to 30 minutes or less, according to Amazon.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration released in June its final rules for the operation of “small unmanned aircraft,” limiting their weight to 55 pounds and to flying only during day at less than 400 feet altitude, within the visual line of sight of the operator of the drone.

Some companies have criticized the rules, which take effect in August, claiming that the regulation make it unfeasible to deploy drones for deliveries on a large commercial scale.

The deal with a cross-government team backed by the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) will give the company far more flexibility, allowing it to test beyond line of sight operations in rural and suburban areas. Amazon will also work on sensors that will ensure that drones can identify and avoid obstacles, and test flights where a single-person can operate multiple highly-automated drones, Amazon said Monday.

“This announcement strengthens our partnership with the UK and brings Amazon closer to our goal of using drones to safely deliver parcels in 30 minutes to customers in the UK and elsewhere around the world,” said Paul Misener, Amazon’s vice president of global innovation policy and communications, in a statement.

Amazon has previously warned that regulations in the U.S. would drive more of its research and development on drones to other countries. It is already testing drones in the U.K., Canada and the Netherlands.

With the new agreement, it would appear that the U.K. may get delivery by drones faster than the U.S. The tests by Amazon will guide policy and future approach in the area, CAA said.

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