Amazon is still struggling to make drone deliveries work

A report from Bloomberg describes the obstacles that hamper Amazon’s efforts to get its delivery drone program up and running, with reference to a high employee turnover rate and potential security risks.

According to Bloomberg, there were five crashes over a four-month period at the company’s test site in Pendleton, Oregon. A crash in May occurred after a drone lost its propeller, however Bloomberg says Amazon cleaned up the wreck before the Federal Aviation Administration could investigate. Amazon spokesman Av Zammit disputed this, saying that Amazon followed orders it received from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) to document the event and move the drone.

The following month, a drone’s engine shut down as it switched from an upward flight path to flying straight ahead. Two safety features – one that should land the drone in this type of situation and another that stabilizes the drone – both failed. As a result, the drone turned upside down and dropped from 160 feet into the air, leading to a brush fire that stretched over 25 acres. It was later extinguished by the local fire department.

“Instead of a controlled descent to a safe landing, [the drone] fell about 160 feet in an uncontrolled vertical fall and was consumed by fire, “the FAA said in a report on the incident obtained by Bloomberg.

Former Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos first announced 30-minute drone deliveries in 2013, and nearly 10 years later, we still do not have drones delivering Amazon packages to our doorstep. In 2019, the company saw a preview of a redesign of its Prime Air delivery drone that has the ability to fly vertically, suggesting that the launch of drone deliveries later that year – a promise that was not fulfilled. A year later, Amazon announced FAA approval of the company to operate as a drone carrier in 2020, which Amazon’s vice president of Prime Air said was “an important step forward for Prime Air.”

Last year, a The cable the report revealed that Amazon’s drone delivery operation is struggling just as much in the UK, despite making its first drone delivery near Cambridge in 2016. Wired’s the report suggests that the British outfit is marred by some of the same problems described by Bloomberg, including a high turnover rate and potential security issues. At a British-based drone footage analysis facility for humans and animals, a worker reportedly drank beer at work while The cable said another held the “approve” button on their computer, whether there were dangers in the recordings or not.

In a statement to The edgeZammit said the NTSB never classified any of Amazon’s flight tests as an accident as they did not result in any injuries or endanger structures.

“Safety is our top priority,” Zammit said. “We use a closed, private facility to test our systems to their limits and more. With rigorous testing like this, we expect these types of incidents to take place and we use the experience of each flight to improve safety. No one is ever have been injured or injured as a result of these flights and each test is performed in accordance with all applicable regulations. “

Former and current employees at Amazon also told Bloomberg that the company prioritizes the urgent rollout of its drone program over security. Cheddi Skeete, a former drone project manager at Amazon, said he was fired last month for talking to his manager about his security concerns. Skeete told Bloomberg that he was reluctant to continue testing a drone that had crashed five days earlier, but was told that the team had inspected 180 engines on 30 different drones – Skeete doubted this claim as checking the engines is a troublesome process, Bloomberg reports.

“We take safety reporting seriously – we have a safety reporting system that is well known by all our team members and we encourage them to raise any safety issues and concerns,” Zammit said. The edge. “In addition to using this system, we encourage employees to provide any other feedback they may have through their manager, HR or our management team.”

David Johnson, a former drone assistant for Amazon, told Bloomberg that Amazon would sometimes perform tests “without a full flight crew” and with “inadequate equipment.” Johnson also said the company often assigned multiple roles to one person, one claim Bloomberg says confirmed by two other former Amazon employees.

“They give people more things to do in a very narrow amount of time to try to increase their numbers, and people cut corners,” Johnson said. Bloomberg. “They were more worried about pumping planes out and did not want to slow down.”

Zammit rejected Johnson’s claims, saying, “Crew members are only assigned one role per flight. Before each flight test, crew members are briefed on their individual role,” Zammit explained. We set no time limits for completing any aspect of our flight test, and our teams can take the time to complete their roles safely. “

Correction 11 April at 19:28 ET: An earlier version of the article described a drone’s descent as “burning” when it caught fire when it landed. We apologize for the inconvenience.

Update April 11 at 19:28 ET: Added additional context around Amazon’s response to a drone controlled and added a further statement from Av Zammit.

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