After the US and together with the UK, Italy will be the first EU country to test Amazon’s sky delivery drones. The official announcement came from the US company during Delivery the Future, the event staged in Seattle at which the Prime Air division unveiled its latest news. The most important is the green light for the pilot project that will take place in Italy, chosen by Amazon for several reasons. “Italy has a large and very active Amazon user base, but above all, it is a country that has a very clear and safety-oriented regulation, together with a territory that lends itself to experimentation both from a geographical point of view and for the expertise that the country historically has in the aviation sector.” This is how David Carbon, vice-president of Prime Air, explained why the company focuses on the Bel Paese to bring drone deliveries to Europe.
Delivery by drone is no longer an experiment but a reality
Granted that it will still be some time before we raise our heads and see the skies full of drones delivering parcels ordered online 60 minutes earlier (Prime Air aims to reduce the time to 30 minutes once the business is up and running), the enormous progress made by Amazon in a decade, when founder Jeff Bezos‘ words about delivery drones seemed utopian, must be considered. Instead, the plan is proceeding apace, so much so that it is considered “a new way of operating in urban and suburban environments, which will improve the quality of life of citizens.” This is what Carmela Tripaldi, Director of Research and Innovative Mobility Regulation of the Italian National Civil Aviation Authority, told the Italian daily Repubblica. She defined Amazon’s drone programme as “not an experiment but a reality”, anticipating that ‘after goods, it will be the turn of transporting people‘.
Everyone’s priority is safety, which is always crucial and even more so in the start-up phase of such an ambitious project. In this area, however, Carbon specified how transporting parcels by air could make things easier, as ‘already today, the drone is safer than delivery by road’. One of the reasons for this is the aim to get drones off the ground in Italy by next year. “When we started the Amazon Prime delivery programme, it was considered revolutionary.
Getting freight to people where they requested it in just a few days was exciting and new at the same time. Since then, we have developed new technologies and sustained investments in our logistics network that have helped us get parcels to customers in two days, one day and even the same day. We are working with the relevant authorities to make Amazon’s drone deliveries in Italy from the end of 2024,’ said Lorenzo Barbo, Managing Director of Amazon Italia Logistics.
Amazon’s leading partner in Italy is ENAC, the national civil aviation authority, which aims to “include the innovative thrust of advanced air mobility in the aviation sector, creating a national ecosystem favourable to the safe development of new services”. According to Pierluigi Di Palma, President of ENAC, ‘thanks to emerging technologies we are investing in resources, research, energy and young people to ensure the smart and sustainable future that is already just around the corner’. As for Amazon drones, the project also involves EASA, the European Aviation Safety Agency, in coordination with government authorities, to foster a regulatory and technical scenario for the start-up of commercial drone cargo operations because “Italy’s experience will be an inspiration and support for safe operations in the rest of Europe”.
MK30, the drone that will launch a new service – delivery by drone
Prime Air’s progress is primarily attributable to Amazon‘s investment in the evolution of the drone for home deliveries. Which will be facilitated by the latest model unveiled, MK30. Smaller, more compact, faster, and, thanks to the new propellers designed by the Flight Science team, also quieter than the previous model (MK27-2), the drone is already in use in tests that have been underway for almost a year in Lockeford (California) and College Station (Texas), two experiments that, thanks to agreements with local communities and regulatory authorities, are giving excellent feedback. The credit for this goes to the hexacopter, which is able to take off and land vertically, fly horizontally en route and take off within a maximum distance of 12 km from the logistics centre that is the base.
Even more important is the ability to fly while dodging obstacles, as the small aircraft is equipped with “sense-and-avoid” technology, which enables it to detect and evade people, animals and buildings. Another key element is the ability to observe the parameters of the environment in which it operates in order to assess possible dangers and return to base or make an emergency landing in a clear area without harming others. The drone is weatherproof and can also fly in adverse weather conditions or extreme temperatures (both hot and cold). However, it can currently carry a maximum weight of 5 lbs (equivalent to just over 2.25 kg). This means that the first deliveries will be limited to small technology products, stationery, household items, basic necessities and personal care products.
At this point, all that remains is to wait until the next few months to see the first flights of drones in the Italian skies, to see if and how the Amazon Prime Air flying delivery boy will take shape.