Bloomberg reports on the roadblocks to Amazon’s delivery drone program getting off the ground, citing a high staff turnover rate and possible safety concerns.
According to Bloomberg, five collisions occurred at the company’s testing facility in Pendleton, Oregon, over a four-month period. After a drone’s propeller failed in May, Bloomberg reports that Amazon cleaned away the debris before the Federal Aviation Administration could investigate. Av Zammit, an Amazon spokeswoman, refuted this, claiming that the company followed guidelines from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) to log the incident and transfer the drone.
A drone’s motor stopped down the next month when it transitioned from an upward flight route to flying straight ahead. Two safety mechanisms, one of which is designed to land the drone in this scenario and the other of which is supposed to steady the drone, both failed. As a result, the drone flipped upside down and plummeted from 160 feet in the air, igniting a bush fire that spanned 25 acres. The fire brigade in the area was able to put it out later.
In a report acquired by Bloomberg, the FAA stated, “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.”
Former Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos originally announced 30-minute drone deliveries in 2013, yet we still don’t have drones delivering Amazon products to our doorsteps over ten years later. In 2019, the business teased a makeover of its Prime Air delivery drone with the capacity to fly vertically, as well as a commitment to start drone deliveries later that year – a promise that never materialized. Amazon received FAA certification to operate as a drone airline in 2020 a year later, which Amazon’s vice president of Prime Air called “an major step forward for Prime Air.”
Despite making its first-ever drone delivery near Cambridge in 2016, Amazon’s drone delivery program in the UK is suffering, according to a Wired investigation published last year. According to Wired, the UK outfit suffers from some of the same problems as Bloomberg, such as a high turnover rate and possible safety concerns. One worker at a UK-based facility for analyzing drone video for humans and animals apparently drank beer on the job, while another, according to Wired, pressed the “accept” button on their computer regardless of whether the film included any risks.
According to Zammit, the NTSB never categorized any of Amazon’s flying testing as an accident because no injuries were sustained or structures were jeopardized.
“Our first goal is safety,” Zammit stated. “To test our systems to their limits and beyond, we employ a restricted, private facility.” We expect these sorts of occurrences to occur as a result of such thorough testing, and we use the lessons learned after each flight to improve safety. These flights have never resulted in any injuries or injury, and each test is carried out in accordance with all applicable rules.”
Former and present Amazon employees also told Bloomberg that the business is putting a hurry on the launch of its drone program at the expense of safety. Cheddi Skeete, a former Amazon drone project manager, claims he was sacked last month for discussing his safety concerns with his boss. Skeete told Bloomberg that he was hesitant to continue testing a drone that had crashed five days before, but that the crew had inspected 180 engines on 30 different drones — a claim Skeete questioned since inspecting the motors is a time-consuming operation, according to Bloomberg.
“We take safety reporting very seriously — we have a safety reporting mechanism that all our team members are familiar with, and we encourage them to express any safety ideas or concerns,” Zammit told The Verge. “We urge employees to offer any other feedback they may have through their manager, HR, or our leadership team in addition to using this approach.”
Amazon would occasionally conduct testing “without a full flying crew” and with “inadequate equipment,” according to David Johnson, a former drone flight assistant for Amazon. Johnson also said that Amazon frequently allocated numerous jobs to one individual, an allegation backed up by two other former Amazon workers, according to Bloomberg.
“They give individuals many things to do in a very short period of time to attempt to raise their numbers,” Johnson told Bloomberg. “They didn’t want to slow down because they were more concerned about pushing flights out.”
“Crew members are allocated to only one function every flight,” Zammit said, refuting Johnson’s accusations. “Crew members are instructed on their specific roles before each flight test,” Zammit stated. We don’t impose time constraints for any component of our flight testing, so our team may take as long as they need to finish their jobs safely.”