Amazon workers in the UK say the company’s drone delivery system ‘will never take off’

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos may have been able to fly into space, but it looks like the company’s drone delivery system may never get off the ground.

The Amazon Prime Air initiative debuted in 2016 as a way to fulfill customers’ orders in half an hour.

But five years later, the dream remains true as the tech giant shuts down a division in its pioneering British aviation team, as the staff allege Prime Air is ‘dysfunctional’.

Speak on condition of anonymity to wired, former employees of the British team described a work environment where managers were appointed to oversee the drone delivery project without any technological knowledge and people would drink at their desks due to a lack of motivation.

Ultimately, more than 100 employees at the Cambridge office lost their jobs and dozens of others were transferred to other projects, Wired reports, just months after the company laid off dozens of employees working on the project in the United States.

The Amazon Prime Air initiative debuted in 2016 as a way to fulfill customers’ orders in half an hour

According to videos posted on the company's website, the drones would complete an automated trajectory at one of the company's fulfillment centers before taking off.

According to videos posted on the company’s website, the drones would complete an automated trajectory at one of the company’s fulfillment centers before taking off.

It would travel 15 miles to land in front of the customer's lawn

It would travel 15 miles to land in front of the customer’s lawn

Amazon Prime Air was billed as a way for the company to deliver packages under five pounds within 30 minutes of a customer placing an order.

People at an Amazon fulfillment center would process the order and package the shipment, before attaching it to a drone that would descend an automated track and rise into the sky, according to videos posted to the company’s website.

The drones could then travel 15 miles with the package, guided by a GPS, before descending onto the customer’s lawn with the product in tow.

Amazon debuted one of its new electronic delivery drones at its re: MARS conference in June 2019, which was able to transport products under five pounds to customers within a 15-mile radius in just half an hour.

Jeff Wilke, Amazon’s global consumer CEO, said at the time that the drone could be used by the company to deliver packages “within months.”

In August of that year, the company filed a petition to approve Federal Aviation’s plans. CNBC.

The FAA approved a little over a year ago the company’s request to “deliver packages safely and efficiently to customers…out of the operator’s line of sight.”

“This certification is an important step forward for Prime Air and indicates that the FAAs have confidence in Amazon’s operational and safety procedures for an autonomous drone delivery service that will one day deliver packages to our customers around the world,” David Carbon , vice president of Prime Air, said in a statement following the announcement.

“We will continue to develop and refine our technology to fully integrate delivery drones into the skies and work closely with the FAA and other regulators around the world to realize our vision of 30-minute delivery.”

He added that the company was not yet ready to deploy its fleet, but has “actively flown and tested the technology.”

Last November, Amazon Prime Air announced that it had entered into preliminary deals with two third-party manufacturers, but also said: it fired dozens of its employees who worked in research and development and production on the project in the US

“We are reorganizing a small team within our larger Prime Air organization to enable us to best align with the needs of our customers and the business,” Amazon spokeswoman Kristen Kish said in a statement. Reuters.

She added that the company was working to find jobs for the affected workers “in the areas where we hire people.”

Jeff Wilke, Amazon's global consumer CEO, debuted one of its new electronic delivery drones at its re: MARS conference in June 2019, saying the drone could be used by the company to deliver packages

Jeff Wilke, Amazon’s global consumer CEO, debuted one of its new electronic delivery drones at its re: MARS conference in June 2019, saying the drone could be used by the company to deliver packages “within months.”

People in the warehouses packed the boxes and attached them to the drones

People in the warehouses packed the boxes and attached them to the drones

On the other side of the pond, the situation appears to have been more dire, with Wired reporting that more than 100 Amazon Prime Air employees have lost their jobs and a dozen more have been relocated to other projects.

The company has been working on drones in the UK since 2016, when it made a splash across the country, releasing promotional videos that garnered millions of views, offering local schools a tour of the drone lab and opening a new office in Cambridge.

It was so popular, Wired reports, that UK regulators accelerated approvals for testing drones.

But former employees of the company said the project has “collapsed inwardly,” is “dysfunctional” and “resembles organized chaos,” run by executives “disconnected from reality.”

The managers appointed to oversee the project were often longtime Amazon employees specializing in logistics and warehouse operations who had little to no knowledge of the technology used on the project, leaving them unable to answer basic questions, said. the former employees, adding that they had to train their replacements in Costa Rica.

Amazon opened a new Cambridge office in preparation for its drone delivery system

Amazon opened a new Cambridge office in preparation for its drone delivery system

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos was able to go into space last month

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos was able to go into space last month

The problems reportedly started in late 2019, when the drone team was split into three divisions that analyzed footage for various threats: humans and animals, other man-made objects in the sky, and 3D maps — which would allow drones to know where someone’s lawn is. is located.

The company began hiring many people for its data analytics team, tasked with manually reviewing flight test images and identifying relevant threats or objects, Wired reports, but there was regular attrition.

Employees also said they were often told to do two opposite things.

And the teams faced some technological challenges as they tried to build drones that would land outside people’s homes, but the systems needed to do that were heavy, and heavier weight for a drone came with more rules in place. the UK, including increased safety requirements to protect people on the ground from potential collisions.

In February 2020, Wired reports, the entire human and animal data analysis team, which employed dozens of people, was shuttered and reassigned, only to reopen three months later with new staff.

Around the same time, the former employees said, the company began to reorganize, and managers told them they were no longer guaranteed a permanent job, further hampering morale.

Afterward, employees said, one person opened a beer at his desk around 11 a.m. or noon, and another person tasked with scouring the footage for potential problems began approving all the frames, even if there were dangers in them. .

“Everything started to collapse because they were piling up too much, putting people in charge who were no longer doing the project and selling them too much,” said one of the former employees.

“It’s all a massive oversell – just so many promises that can’t be kept.”

An Amazon spokesperson told Wired there are still people working for Prime Air in the UK, but declined to confirm how many employees there are.

He also said the company has “rigorous procedures” to monitor the work of employees and that “rapid action” has been taken in cases of misconduct.

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