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The Stack Archive

CAA emails show Amazon drones active since 2015

Wed 23 Nov 2016

A newly released chain of emails between the CAA and Amazon reveals that Prime Air drones have been active in the UK for a year longer than previously thought.

In response to a request under the Freedom of Information Act, the Civil Aviation Authority released email communications between the CAA and Amazon related to drone testing in the United Kingdom. The emails show that the CAA and Amazon began meeting to discuss drone regulations in July 2014, and conducted a demonstration in June of 2015.

This demonstration for the CAA took place a full year before Amazon announced that it would begin testing drones in the UK.

Amazon Prime Air is intended to allow fast delivery of packages weighing less than 55 pounds using small drones. Anti-collision technology is combined with sophisticated automation to allow pilots to safely operate vehicles 10 miles or more from the operator.

Amazon Prime drones are meant to fly under 400 feet from the ground at the highest, which aligns with existing CAA drone regulations. However, Amazon Prime drones will need to be operated remotely, when they are out of the line of sight of the operator. That goes against current CAA drone regulations, which state that the operator must be able to see the drone at all times.

Amazon Prime Air drone tests in the UK will involve situations where the drone is out of sight of the operator, which differentiates commercial tests from drone hobbyists. This could open the door for other commercial tests of drones operating in similar situations where the operator maintains a line of sight using first person goggles connected to a camera on the drone.

A camera mounted on the drone for purposes of remote operation may also violate drone privacy regulations, which currently state that drones fitted with cameras must not be flown within 50 meters of people, vehicles, buildings or structures.

Amazon is also testing the drone’s ‘sense and avoid’ technology, which is intended to help prevent collisions, and situations in which a single operator is in control of multiple drones.

Complaints to UK law enforcement about drones rose over 300% from 2015 to 2016, by citizens with public safety and privacy concerns.

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