Amazon’s first drone delivery happened on December 7 in Cambridge, England, and only 13 minutes passed between the customer placing their order and receiving their package. We’re not positive, but it looks like the contents of that first delivery were an Amazon Fire TV and a bag of popcorn.
The delivery was made as part of the beta testing for Amazon’s much-hyped Prime Air service, which uses autonomous drones to deliver packages weighing five pounds or less directly to consumers. Amazon’s hope is that Prime Air will cut the time between someone purchasing and receiving various items to around 30 minutes.
Prime Air drones find their way to their customers via GPS. Deciding where to land is a little bit trickier: as Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos explained in October, it requires people to print out a piece of paper with a symbol on it that tells the company’s drones it’s safe to land on top of it.
Bezos also said Amazon was doing “a lot of the R&D and test flights at Cambridge.” Now it’s launched this beta there. But why do all this in Cambridge when Amazon is a U.S.-based company?
Bezos explained in October that it’s because the United Kingdom’s equivalent to the Federal Aviation Administration, the Civil Aviation Authority, has given the company more freedom than its American counterpart would have with its drone regulations.
Cambridge also gives Amazon a wide-open place to teach its drones how to fly themselves. The company wants the drones to handle everything from take-off to returning to its base without human intervention. Teaching them how to do that is going to take some time, so having lots of space is preferable.
That could take a while. Amazon said it plans to use customer feedback and data gathered from this test to expand Prime Air to more people over time. The service is available to just two customers right now, and will expand to “dozens of customers” over the coming months, as long as they’re close to its facility.
So when might Prime Air come back to the states? That’s going to depend on federal regulations, which currently prohibit drones from flying without a human pilot with an unbroken line of sight to their vehicle. That could change, as the White House announced in August that it wants federal agencies to explore delivery drones more thoroughly, but for now Amazon’s drones will have to stay across the pond.
Inverse reached out to Amazon to get more information about this Prime Air beta test and the drone’s first commercial delivery. We’ll update this piece if the company responds, especially about what was in that first delivery.