Amazon Drone Crashes Put Jeff Bezos Delivery Dreams

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The difficulties impeding Amazon’s efforts to launch its delivery drone program include a high personnel turnover rate and significant safety issues, Bloomberg reports

According to Bloomberg, five crashes occurred at the company’s testing facility in Pendleton, Oregon, over a four-month period. A drone crashed in May after its propeller failed, but according to Bloomberg, Amazon cleaned up the wreckage before the Federal Aviation Administration could investigate. Av Zammit, an Amazon spokeswoman, refuted this, claiming that Amazon followed regulations from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) to document the event and relocate the drone.

The following month, a drone’s motor failed as it transitioned from an upward flight route to a straight-ahead flight path. Two safety features failed: one that is designed to land the drone in this type of situation and another that stabilizes the drone. As a result, the drone flipped upside down and crashed from 160 feet in the air, sparking a 25-acre brush fire. The local fire service later extinguished it.

“Instead of a controlled descent to a safe landing, [the drone] plunged roughly 160 feet in an uncontrolled vertical fall and was devoured by fire,” the FAA wrote in a report acquired by Bloomberg on the event.

Former Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos first announced 30-minute drone deliveries in 2013, yet over a decade later, we still do not get Amazon products delivered to our doorsteps via drone. In 2019, the firm previewed a revamp of its Prime Air delivery drone that included vertical flight capabilities and hinted at commencing drone deliveries later that year – a promise that never materialized. One year later, Amazon announced that the FAA has approved the company’s application to operate a drone airline in 2020, which Amazon’s vice president of Prime Air described as “an important step forward for Prime Air.”

According to a Wired report last year, despite making its first-ever drone delivery near Cambridge in 2016, Amazon’s drone delivery program is battling just as hard in the UK. According to Wired, the UK outfit has some of the same problems as Bloomberg, such as a high turnover rate and potential safety hazards. One worker apparently drank beer on the job at a UK-based facility for analyzing drone footage for people and animals, while another, according to Wired, held down the “accept” button on their computer regardless of whether there were hazards in the footage or not.

According to Zammit, the NTSB never categorized any of Amazon’s flight testing as an accident because they did not result in any injuries or placed structures at risk.

“Our first goal is safety,” Zammit stated. “We test our systems to their limits and beyond in a restricted, private facility.” We expect these types of occurrences to occur as a result of rigorous testing like this, and we use the lessons learned from each flight to improve safety. No one has ever been hurt or killed as a result of these flights, and each test is carried out in accordance with all applicable regulations.”

Former and present Amazon employees reportedly told Bloomberg that the corporation is putting the accelerated implementation of its drone program over safety. Cheddi Skeete, a former Amazon drone project manager, claims he was sacked last month for discussing his safety concerns with his manager. Skeete told Bloomberg that he was hesitant to continue testing a drone that had crashed five days prior, but was assured that the crew had inspected 180 engines on 30 different drones – Skeete questioned this allegation because examining the motors is a time-consuming process.

“We take safety reporting seriously – we have a safety reporting mechanism that all our team members are familiar with, and we encourage them to express any safety suggestions and concerns,” Zammit told The Verge. “We urge employees to offer any additional feedback they may have through their manager, HR, or our leadership team, in addition to using this system.”

Former Amazon drone flight assistant David Johnson told Bloomberg that the company would occasionally conduct testing “without a full flying team” and with “inadequate equipment.” Johnson also said that the business frequently allocated numerous tasks to one worker, which Bloomberg claims is supported by two other former Amazon employees.

“They give individuals many things to do in a very short window of time to try to raise their numbers,” Johnson told Bloomberg. “They were more concerned with getting flights out as quickly as possible and didn’t want to slow down.”

“Crew members are assigned to only one function per trip,” Zammit said in response to Johnson’s assertions. “Crew members are instructed on their particular roles prior to each flight test,” Zammit explained. We do not establish time constraints for any component of our flight tests, and our personnel is free to take their time in order to fulfill their duties safely.”


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