The Guardian reports that, frustrated by the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) stringent rules, Amazon has been testing its delivery drones in a top-secret site just 2,000 feet from the US border.
The newspaper explains that it was invited by Amazon to see the facility which is located just over the US border in British Columbia. Working with "full blessing of the Canadian government," Amazon is said to be "conducting frequent experimental flights". The newspaper explains that it witnessed tests of a type of hybrid drone "that can take off and land vertically as well as fly horizontally".
Just last week, the FAA granted Amazon an experimental airworthiness certificate, which allows the company to test drones in the US — though not operate them commercially. Amazon officials later said that the change of heart had taken so long that technology suggested at the start of the process would now be obsolete.
What it didn't say at the time was that it had been testing and tweaking drones in the meantime, just over the border. Canada has, apparently, been incredibly relaxed about drone testing, offering "a virtual carte blanche" for the experiments.
The Guardian explains that a "formidable team of roboticists, software engineers, aeronautics experts and pioneers in remote sensing — including a former Nasa astronaut and the designer of the wingtip of the Boeing 787" — are staffed in British Columbia. They're apparently working on a number of projects, reports the Guardian, including:
sensors that can detect and avoid obstacles in a drone's path; link-loss procedures that control the aircraft should its connection with base be broken; stability in wind and turbulence; and environmental impact. Once each of these facets has been perfected, a new Amazon prototype drone will be assembled that [is predicted to] be utterly safe and wholly unlike anything seen before.
Amazon tells the Guardian that the resulting aircraft will operate in a "slice of virgin airspace – above 200ft, where most buildings end, and below 500ft, where general aviation begins." There, it suggests, they'll carry packages weighing up to 2.2 kilos over distances greater than 10 miles at 50 mph.
Quite how far progressed any of this technology is remains somewhat unclear in the article. But what is clear is that it's far, far further ahead than if Amazon had stuck it out with the FAA. [Guardian]