moves drone testing to secret Canadian location after U.S. too slow granting permits Print
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Written by Joan Russow
Tuesday, 31 March 2015 07:03


By  |  | Last Updated: Mar 31 8:27 AM ET
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Photo released in 2013 of an test drone. The company is now testing more advanced models in British Columbia.
AP Photo/AmazonPhoto released in 2013 of an test drone. The company is now testing more advanced models in British Columbia.

VANCOUVER – Spurned by U.S. regulators, has turned to the one country where flying delivery robots are still welcome: Canada.

On Monday, the U.K.’s Guardian newspaper revealed that the online retail giant is testing its latest prototypes for package-carrying drones at a top-secret site in British Columbia.

“We are rapidly experimenting and iterating on Amazon Prime Air … including outdoors at a rural test site in Canada,” wrote Amazon spokesperson Kristen Kish in an email to the National Post.

AP Photo/Google
AP Photo/GoogleA Google test drone. Google and rival Inc., are both experimenting with self-flying vehicles to deliver merchandise.

First announced in 2013, Prime Air is a proposed arm of that would use autonomous drones travelling as fast as 80 km/h to rush packages to urban locations around the world.

“One day, seeing Amazon Prime Air will be as normal as seeing mail trucks on the road today,” wrote the company in a petition to U.S. regulators.

Located a mere 600 meters from the U.S. border, the Canadian testing grounds fulfill a lingering threat by Amazon to take their drone research abroad unless U.S. regulators could speed up their glacial approval process for unmanned aircraft

Earlier this month, the Federal Aviation Administration cleared one of Amazons’ drones for testing, only to be informed that the six-month approval process had taken so long that the vehicle was already obsolete.

“We’ve moved on to more advanced designs that we already are testing abroad,” wrote Paul Misener, Amazon’s vice president for Global Public Policy, in a biting submission to the U.S. Senate last week.

Guarded by a small contingent of plainclothes security guards, the Canadian testing site is being used to test autonomous drones capable of carrying a five-pound package as far as 14 kilometres — roughly the distance from Downtown Toronto to York University.

Said Ms. Kish, the technology will one day be used “to deliver packages to customers in 30 minutes or less.”

Brice Hall/Postmedia News
Brice Hall/Postmedia News

Although Transport Canada requires that the test drones remain less than 90 meters from the ground and within sight of their operators, Canada’s open-armed policy for flying robots meant that the Amazon team was able to get a green light for the tests in only a matter of weeks.

“In Vancouver, it can take only three weeks to get approval,” said Ophir Kendler with Aerial X, a Vancouver-based drone contractor.

South of the border, meanwhile, it will be another two years until comprehensive U.S. drone legislation takes effect.

While Amazon’s drones have also been allowed to take to the air in the U.K. and Israel, on U.S. soil they remain restricted to indoor testing at a Seattle-area facility.

“Of course, Amazon would prefer to keep the focus, jobs and investment of this important research and development initiative in the United States,” hinted the online retailer in a summer letter to the Federal Aviation Administration.

Amazon’s drone development is being overseen by a crack team of roboticists, aerospace engineers and NASA alumni
After being shuttled to the B.C. site from their homes in Seattle, the team is overseeing trials to gauge the ability of Amazon drones to steer clear of unexpected obstacles and function safely in the event that their remote connection is lost. The Guardian reported witnessing the test of a “hybrid drone that can take off and land vertically.”

Amazon’s secret Canadian drone trials are only the latest evidence of a strict regulatory regime that is inadvertently putting Canada “well ahead of the US with regards to Unmanned Aerial Vehicles,” said Andrew Chapman with Vancouver’s Skymount Unmanned Systems, writing in an email to the National Post.

Earlier this month, Popular Science reported that Canada had issued 1,672 commercial drone licenses in 2014 and 945 in 2013. The FAA, by contrast, had less than 50 total.

National Post

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Last Updated on Tuesday, 31 March 2015 07:08