New reports have suggested that Amazon is scaling back its pilot drone delivery project in Cambridge.
According to a report in Wired, over 100 employees have lost their job with Amazon Air Prime while others have been moved onto different projects. Among the people being made redundant are the project’s data analysis team.
The Cambridge project made its first successful delivery in 2016. However, only two customers were eligible for the trial as they lived close to the depot and owned large gardens. In addition, items were limited to those weighing less than 2.6kg.
The ultimate goal was to provide deliveries in under half an hour. However, despite a promising start, the Prime Air project has not made any concrete progress in the last five years. Reports suggested that the company was eyeing a soft launch for the third quarter of 2022.
Wired’s report cited anonymous employees suggesting that the project had been mismanaged. This includes a high staff turnover rate and hiring sprees from temp agencies. In addition, people claimed that the many managers had logistics skills, but lacked vital technical understanding of the project.
An earlier report from the Business Insider claimed that the project experienced a 20% turnover rate in 2020.
Amazon has stated that it has staff still working at Prime Air, but has not confirmed how many or any of the report’s other claims. According to a spokesperson, Prime Air will still be present in the UK, but they did not explain in what form.
In addition to its Cambridge project, Amazon received permission to begin a similar project in the US in September 2020. Similar US projects are being led by companies such as UPS and Wing – which is owned by Google’s parent company Alphabet.
Several companies have been exploring the possibility of drone deliveries over the last few years. In 2018, UK legislation was changed to allow drones to operate beyond the user’s line of sight. This opened up the possibility of using GPS-tracked drones to perform small local deliveries.
The UK was one of the first countries to update its laws to promote the use of drones.
In addition to Amazon, Tesco began a project in September to test drone deliveries last year. Customers within 30 minutes of a Tesco store in County Galway, Ireland, could receive their orders via small aerial vehicles. Orders of up to 4kg could be delivered as speeds of up to 50mph.
Tesco partnered with drone company Manna as part of the project. In the last few days, Manna has stated that it aims to expand the service into a larger town after it secured $25 million of funding in April.
The Royal Mail has also used drones in small-scale deliveries in remote parts of the UK. One took place in December, which saw drones deliver packages to the Isle of Mull. Another drone was used to deliver items to the Isle of Scilly in May this year.
As a major player and innovator in logistics and technology, any move from Amazon can be seen as a bellwether for a broader industry trend.
However, in this case, it seems like the problems facing Prime Air are less to do with the viability of drone deliveries and more to do with internal struggles facing the project.