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December 19, 2016 AT 1:00 pm

In Major Step for Drone Delivery, Amazon Flies Package to Customer in England #Droneday

In Major Step for Drone Delivery Amazon Flies Package to Customer in England The New York Times

Amazon made its first commercial drone delivery on Dec. 7 in Cambridgeshire, England, Via New York Times

When Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s chief executive, first said that the e-commerce giant wanted to use drones to deliver packages directly to customers’ homes, many people thought he was crazy.

Three years later, his claims no longer look so outlandish.

On Wednesday, Mr. Bezos announced on Twitter that his company had made its first commercial drone delivery, on Dec. 7, to an Amazon shopper in Cambridgeshire, England, a major step forward in its experiments with automated shipments.

The flight — to deliver an Amazon Fire streaming device and popcorn to a customer identified only as Richard B. — took off from a nearby Amazon warehouse and lasted 13 minutes, covering about two miles.

Amazon said it would now test drone deliveries with two more customers near Cambridge, an English city where the company has a large drone-testing plant. If the tests are successful, the company says it wants to expand the number of consumers who could participate in the trial to dozens in the coming months, eventually allowing hundreds to use the drone service.

The start of customer trials for the drone delivery service, which Amazon calls Prime Air, is a milestone for a technology that could eventually automate an important part of Amazon’s business as the company looks to cement its position as the world’s dominant online retailer.

There are reasons to be skeptical about how broadly drones can be used, however, because of aviation rules, weather restrictions and weight limitations on cargo.

Experts say that the advent of widespread drone deliveries, even if technically possible, would take years, and regulators from the United States and elsewhere could block the plans.

Even if drones end up handling only a small portion of Amazon’s overall deliveries, the implications could be far-reaching.

The company, for instance, might not need as many truck drivers or other costly logistical operations. Drones could also have environmental benefits, by reducing reliance on pollution-belching vehicles. The biggest boon may be to customers, who could be able to receive their orders more quickly, depending where they live.

The fact that Amazon’s latest drone tests were in Britain is no coincidence.

The country’s regulators have been more cooperative than their American counterparts about such flights, even signing an agreement with Amazon in July to allow the testing of drones in rural and suburban areas.

As part of those trials — some of which have taken place at a secretive farm in rural Cambridgeshire — Amazon has been allowed to fly drones without a human pilot at the controls, navigating to destinations solely by GPS. The company says it has developed “sense-and-avoid” technology to help the machines fly around towers, birds and other obstructions.

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