Lost your password?
Don't have an account? Sign Up

Amazon’s Prime Air Drone Unit Quietly Disbanded French R & D

Amazon.com Inc. has shifted staff working on its Paris-based drone research and development center to new projects, marking another set-back in the company’s delivery project.

Dozen-strong team, which previously focused on drone navigation, were reassigned to new roles in Amazon from September 2020 onwards, primarily focusing on Covid-testing software, according to job profiles on LinkedIn.

“Prime Air continues to make great strides toward our vision of customer orders in 30 minutes or less by drone,” said an Amazon spokesperson. “We recognize the only solution worth launching is one that is safe and we continue to partner closely with regulators in that mission.

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos disclosed Amazon’s ambitions to deliver packages by drone in an interview in 2013. The company would go on to open research and development outposts in the U.S. and Europe, and held its first successful delivery test as part of a pilot near Cambridge, England, in 2016.

But the company has repeatedly failed to meet its own deadlines to launch a drone delivery service, including a prediction in mid-2019 that Amazon’s latest drone model would be making deliveries to customers within months. According to a recent report from Wired, more than 100 employees that had been part of the U.K. Prime Air team have been recently laid off, while others were reassigned.
The Paris-based Prime Air development center was opened in May, 2017 at the tech giant’s regional headquarters at Clichy, near Paris. Amazon described the opening as “a major investment to boost its research and development in France.”

The local R&D hub aimed to develop a traffic management software for autonomous drones, in order to “enable safe low-altitude drone operations, providing airspace access and geofencing, real-time identification and separation of airborne traffic, and flight planning including contingency management and severe weather avoidance.”

France was one of the first to regulate commercial drone use in 2012. At least eight of the drone team are now working on covid testing software, according to LinkedIn. Amazon has been conducting mass employee screening with its own testing solutions and diagnostics laboratories, assembling a global team of employees to support the effort.

Prime Air also has development centers in the U.S., the U.K., Austria and Israel. Amazon currently lists 111 open positions for its Prime Air division, mainly based in the U.S., and is recruiting drone operators in Seattle and Pendleton, Oregon, as well as software and hardware engineers or computer vision scientists.

In the U.S., Amazon obtained a regulatory clearance from the Federal Aviation Administration in 2020, allowing potential commercial deliveries under a trial program. A new electric drone model was unveiled by the company in 2019.