Amazon crosses the border to trial drones for its Prime Air service in Canada

31 Mar 2015

Amazon Prime Air

In its ongoing battle with US authorities, Amazon has decided to up sticks and move into Canada, where it has permission to test its drone service within eye-shot of American soil.

When Paul Misener appeared before the US Senate recently to discuss the flagging, bureaucratic nightmare that lies in front of those looking to advance drone delivery technology in the US, he did so with a secret.

For as he warned of the woes the US authorities were placing on the shoulders of the likes of Amazon – whose Prime Air delivery plan targets to deliver products below 5lbs within 30 minutes of order – his company were setting up across the border.

In a secret spot, just outside the US, Canada gave permission to test drones within a specific area of airspace. It took the Canadians three weeks to approve Amazon’s request, US authorities have had the same request for over eight months, without responding yet.

What has actually happened is by the time the US Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) approve a drone, it is already obsolete, such is the incredible innovation in the industry at the moment.

“The pace of innovation is so great at this point that our designs are changing very quickly,” Misener told the Guardian. Indeed Gur Kimchi, the man behind Prime Air, can’t even fully predict what lies ahead.

“We are going to end up with unique shapes, unique vehicles. The most important part is to develop strong confidence that our system is safe and that we can demonstrate that to customers,” he said.

“You can build a very different world. It can be faster, and safer, and more economic and more environmentally friendly – all of those things, all at the same time.”

So now Canada hosts these innovators, who spend hours testing out drones, establishing their safety, durability and usability.

Indeed Diana Cooper, an Ottawa-based lawyer who specialises in drone regulation, feels this is becoming a nice niche for Canada to be involved in. She goes as far as saying companies from further afield are now looking at Canada as a base for their drone studies.

“It’s a great win for Canada,” she says.

Amazon is nowehere near ready to actually roll out a drone delivery service any time soon, there’s way too much study to be done on the performance of these machines to do before such an option becomes available.

Although at least in Canada, US companies can start to learn.

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic