In 2013, Amazon promised to use drones to deliver purchases to its users in just 30 minutes. However, almost a decade later, the company is still far from effectively implementing the program announced with great fanfare by Jeff Bezos. A recent report by Bloomberg exposes that the company would have encountered multiple difficulties to make the long-awaited Prime Air successful; this would not only be due to technical problems and incidents during the flight tests, but also to the negative impact that the lack of progress and safety issues would have had on the employees involved.
According to the aforementioned media, so far Amazon has allocated more than 2,000 million dollars to its drone program. But not even such an amount of money, added to a team of more than a thousand members, would be enough to bring the company closer to making its almost immediate delivery plan a reality.
Since the initial announcement, Amazon has not only changed the design of its drones, but also the person in charge of driving their development. Gur Kimchi was in charge of this initiative in its early years, while David Carbon took over the post in March 2020 after a long journey as a Boeing director. However, the work of the latter would have come under scrutiny from the company’s own employees for supposedly prioritizing the speed of developments over security.
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It is clear that Amazon is not the only company that bets on drones to innovate in product deliveries. Other large technology firms have also been developing similar proposals for several years, and some —Samsung, for example— have already launched them, but in a very limited way. It is a reality that the definitive implementation of this type of strategy is not only tied to the technical advances and reliability of unmanned vehicles, or to the investment made by each company, but also to the approval of the aeronautical authorities of each country. And the latter is the most difficult, without a doubt.
Almost a decade after its announcement, Amazon drones do not take off
Bloomberg mentions how technical problems would have been a major headache for Amazon’s drone program in 2021. He specifically mentions that five accidents were recorded at the same test site, over the course of just four months. Of this amount, two would have been the most worrying.
One, which apparently occurred in May, would have happened when a propeller came off the drone, causing the device to fall to the ground. The most striking thing here is that Amazon supposedly cleaned the scene before the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) arrived on the scene, although the company denied that it had acted with malicious intent, but rather following the instructions of the competent authorities.
The other would have occurred in June after an unmanned aircraft engine was turned off. According to what was published, the systems that were supposed to counteract the inconvenience did not work, and that caused the device to fall. After the impact, the drone would have caught fire and the fire would have spread over an area of just over 10 hectares.
The problems would not be only technical
Amazon’s troubling drone program would also have taken its toll on the people involved. The increase in the number of accidents during the tests would have given impetus to the departure of several employees who were part of a team.
Bloomberg assures that many of the workers involved in Prime Air chose to be relocated to other branches of the company; mainly on Amazon Web Services. Others would have preferred to abandon it. There would also have been a higher rate of layoffs under the leadership of David Carbon, exceeding 200 in 2021 alone.
A former employee named Cheddi Skeete says he was fired after raising concerns about security issues as part of Amazon’s drone team. They would not only have been related to the failures during the flights and the suspicions about the actual compliance with the maintenance of the devices; It would also have revealed inappropriate working conditions, such as the lack of toilets in the places where the tests were carried out.
For now, Amazon came out at the crossroads of several statements published by Bloomberg. The company assured that safety is its top priority and that all work is done following regulatory frameworks. “We take security reporting seriously; we have a system in place that is well known to all of our team members, and we encourage them to raise any suggestions and concerns about it,” says a statement sent to The Verge, which was also reported. echoed this story.