Amazon: Struggling for Drone Deliveries Work

Amazon is trying to get its delivery drone program off the ground, citing a high employee turnover rate and potential safety risks.

There were five crashes throughout four months at the company’s testing site in Pendleton, Oregon. A collision in May took place after a drone lost its propeller, but Amazon cleaned up the waste before the Federal Aviation Administration could analyze.

Amazon representative Av Zammit disputed this, saying that Amazon heeded orders from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) to document the occasion and move the drone.

A drone’s motor shut off the following month as it switched from an upward flight route to flying straight ahead. Two safety components — one that’s supposed to land the drone in this situation and another that stabilizes the drone — failed. As a result, the drone converted upside down and fell from 160 feet in the air, directing to a brush fire that stretched across 25 acres. The local fire division put it out.

Instead of a controlled descent to a safe landing, [the drone] dropped about 160 feet in an uncontrolled vertical fall and was consumed by fire,” the FAA said in a report of the incident.

Former Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos first declared 30-minute drone deliveries in 2013, and almost ten years later, we still don’t have drones supplying Amazon packages to our doorsteps. In 2019, the company previewed a redesign of its Prime Air delivery drone that can fly vertically and hinted at launching drone deliveries later that year — a promise that went unfulfilled. One year later, Amazon announced FAA authorization for the company to operate as a drone airline in 2020. Amazon’s vice president of Prime Air said it was “an important step forward for Prime Air.”

Former and current employees at Amazon also told Bloomberg that the company is prioritizing the rushed rollout of its drone program over safety. For example, Cheddi Skeete, a former drone project manager at Amazon, said he was fired last month for speaking with his manager about his safety concerns. Skeete said he was reluctant to continue testing a drone that had crashed five days previously but was told the team had inspected 180 engines on 30 different drones. Bloomberg reports that Skeete doubted this assertion, as checking the motors is a cumbersome process.

“We take safety reporting seriously — we have a safety reporting system that’s well-known by all our team members, and we encourage them to raise any safety suggestions and concerns,” Zammit told The Verge. “In addition to using this system, we encourage employees to provide any other feedback they may have through their manager, HR, or our leadership team.”