WATCH: Journalism professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and founder of Drone Journalism Lab Matt Waite talks about American tech giant going to B.C. to conduct tests on delivery drones and why the same is not possible in the U.S.
Amazon may be looking to Canada as a testing ground for its drone delivery.
In an exclusive report, The Guardian suggests Amazon is testing its drone delivery service at a secret site in British Columbia.
In 2013, Amazon announced the development of its revolutionary drone delivery system called Prime Air.
The company hopes to be able to deliver small packages to customers’ doorsteps within 30 minutes of ordering.
Since the announcement, the tech giant has made little progress due to tight restrictions on commercial drone use imposed by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in the United States.
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The Guardian says a closely guarded B.C. location where Amazon is testing its drones is only 2,000 feet from the U.S. border.
It is alleged Amazon has been conducting outdoor flights there for the past few months.
In a statement to Global News, the company said:
We are rapidly experimenting and iterating on Amazon Prime Air, working to make it a reality; this includes controlled flight testing in multiple international locations, including outdoors at a rural test site in Canada. We’re excited about this technology and one day using it to deliver packages to customers in 30 minutes or less.
According to The Guardian, Amazon has acquired a plot of open land lined by oak trees and firs, where it is conducting frequent experimental flights with the full blessing of the Canadian government.
It says Amazon has essentially been granted carte blanche to do the testing, having gone through a licensing process that took just three weeks.
Commercial and recreational drone use in Canada is regulated by Transport Canada.
Even though there are a number of restrictions in place, businesses can obtain a commercial licence to operate drones for profit in stark contrast to the United States, where most of commercial drone use is still largely prohibited.
Transport Canada issued 66 Special Flight Operations Certificates, or SFOCs, for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in 2010. That number jumped to 1,672 in 2014. A SFOC is a special permit that allows Transport Canada to verify that operators can use their UAV reliably and safely.
Transport Canada told Global News it has issued a SFOC to Amazon Canada Fulfillment Services, a Canadian-owned arm of Amazon, on Dec. 17, 2014.
Amazon’s licence is valid until the end of 2015 until it is suspended or cancelled, says Sara Johnston, regional communications officer for Transport Canada.
“The SFOC contains conditions specific to the proposed use, such as maximum altitudes, minimum distances from people and property, operating areas, and coordination requirements with air traffic services,” says Johnston.
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B.C. drone enthusiast Jonathan DeValk says he is not surprised by the development.
“It’s going to happen. You can’t stop the march of progress,” says DeValk. “Policy and paranoia is what is holding this whole industry back right now. The fact that a company as big as Amazon has come up to Canada to do testing is a perfect example of this. Inspired people will always find a place where they can explore and test their ideas.”
DeValk says it sets up Canada as a great place to try new things.
“I would love to see Canada become a leader in UAV technology, training and innovation to aid everyone from a farmer trying to get more out of his/her land to someone needing a package delivered as soon as possible,” he adds.
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