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Supply Chain News: Amazon Drone Program Struggling, Bloomberg Says

 

Safety is an Issue; Is the Design too Heavy?

April 12, 2022
 

Last week, SCDigest published an article on a number of small but positive steps in the area of drone deliveries, with companies such Zipline and the Alphabet company, parent of Google and drone provider Wing, running successful tests with real but limited commercial deliveries. (See Slowly but Steadily, Drone Deliveries in US Starting to Gain Some Momentum.)

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Bloomberg found one former Amazon drone team member who thinks the current design, which comes in at a hefty 85 pounds, is too heavy.

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Noticeably missing from that list of examples was Amazon, which arguably began the drone era after founder Jeff Bezos showed off video of drones carrying parcels in December, 2013, saying he expected real deliveries in five years.

But the article noted Amazon still has ambitious plans, writing that “Late to the recent drone party, Amazon aims to go big, planning to operate 145 drone launch stations and deliver 500 million packages by drone per year” by some unidentified date.

However, over the weekend, Bloomberg.com published an article very critical of Amazon’s drone efforts.

So far, Bloomberg says, Amazon has spent more than $2 billion and created a team of more than 1,000 people around the world to build its drone capabilities.

Despite that investment, “Amazon is a long way from launching a drone delivery,” Bloomberg says.

After an extensive investigation that included reviewing internal Amazon documents and interviews with former employees, Bloomberg found the Amazon program was “beset by technical challenges, high turnover and safety concerns.”

In fact, in June an Amazon drone suffered a serious crash that led federal regulators to question the drone’s airworthiness, the result of the failure of multiple safety features and the machine careening out of control before crashing.

Though crashes in test programs are common, given other delays and now this crash setting the timeline back, the Amazon drone team is feeling pressure to deliver, no pun intended, with managers in some cases taking outsize risks, Bloomberg reports that some former employees said.

Cheddi Skeete, a former Amazon drone project manager, said to Bloomberg “How can we bring these tests to more communities when we know we have problems?”

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Over a four-month period last year there were five drone crashes at a testing site in Pendleton, Oregon, bringing down morale on the team.

However, Amazon is quick to note that no one has ever been injured or harmed as a result of these drone flights.

It also says it will catch up quickly, after missing a goal of conducting 2,500 test flights last year, according to documents reviewed by Bloomberg.

Amazon expects 12,000 flights this year, but fewer than 200 had been completed through late February.

Bloomberg says deciding to do virtually everything in house has slowed progress of the Amazon drone. The company has developed more than two dozen concepts. Challenging requirements are part of the issue, with Amazon looking for a craft that has the ability of a plane to fly long distances but with the maneuverability of a helicopter.

Bloomberg says “Bezos was patient with the team so long as it meant creating a superior machine, according to a senior executive familiar with the program.”

But Bloomberg found one former Amazon drone team member who thinks the current design, which comes in at a hefty 85 pounds, is too heavy.

Google’s Wing drone aircraft, by comparison, comes in at about 11 pounds.

“Every time you increase the weight of the load, the drone gets heavier, needs more batteries,” the former Amazon employee said. “It’s a vicious circle.”


Any thoughts on Amazon's drone progress, or lack thereof? Let us know your at the Feedback section below.


 
 
 
 
 

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