Why Amazon had to clip the wings of its drone delivery service, despite years of planning

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After years of planning and meticulous research done towards making shorter deliveries a reality, Amazon’s drone delivery project is now struggling to get off the ground.

A marked shift away from drones is now being attributed to poor management, sources say, although drone deliveries always had considerable technical and logistical hindrances on its way.

Amazon Prime Air:

Amazon Prime Air was deemed as a service that could deliver packages weighing less than five pounds within 30 minutes of a customer making an order.

Staff at Amazon’s fulfillment center would then process the order and package the shipment, before attaching it to a drone that would go down an automated track and then released into the sky.

The drones would then be able to travel 15 miles with the package, under GPS navigation, before descending on the customer’s front lawn with the product in tow. 

The company had been working on drones in the U.K. since 2016, when it made a spectacle across the country, releasing promotional videos that received millions of views, offering local schools a tour of its drone lab and opening a new office in Cambridge.

After the company cut back the project team in Britain, the project seems far removed from reality, with multiple lay-offs and reassignments being reported.

Sources from within the UK-based operation informed that more than 100 employees from Amazon’s Prime Air division have either been laid off or reassigned, many of whom were based at the Cambridge test site, amid claims that the operation had descended into ‘organised chaos’.

First launched in 2016 in a bid to deliver orders to customers within half an hour, sources claim that this project was ‘never going to get off the ground’. 

Over 100 Jobs lost, Unsuitable work environment

More than 100 employees at Amazon Prime Air have lost their jobs and dozen more being moved to other projects in the United Kingdom.

Speaking on the condition of anonymity, former employees of the UK team raised serious allegations against the work environment of the project, in which managers were put in place to oversee the drone delivery project without any technological knowledge and people would drink at their desks due to a lack of motivation, reports Wired.

Shortly after that, more than 100 employees at the Cambridge office lost their jobs and dozens of others were reassigned to other projects, just months after the company laid off dozens of employees working on the project in the United States.

Last November, Amazon Prime Air announced it had reached tentative deals with two external manufacturers, but also said it laid off dozens of its staff members working in research and development and manufacturing on the project in the U.S.

‘We are reorganizing one small team within our larger Prime Air organization to allow us to best align with the needs of our customers and the business,’ Amazon spokeswoman Kristen Kish said in a statement to Reuters.

She added that the company was working to find roles for the affected employees ‘in the areas where we are hiring.’

The managers who were appointed to oversee the project were often long-time Amazon employees who specialized in logistics and warehouse operations and had little to no knowledge of the technology involved with the project.

Drone Difficulties

The teams dealt with some technological difficulties, as they were trying to build drones that would land outside people’s homes, but the systems required to do so were heavy, and a heavier weight for a drone came with more regulations in the U.K., including higher safety requirements to protect people on the ground from potential collisions. 

The technical problems behind drone deliveries include how to drop the packages off at all: Other companies parachuted packages down, but Amazon’s UK team was attempting to pioneer an approach that would see the drones essentially land outside customers’ houses, dropping packages from just off the ground.

Employees also said they would often be told to do two opposing things. 

While talking about layoffs and reassignments, an Amazon spokesperson said: ‘We recently made organizational changes in our Prime Air business and were able to find positions for affected employees in other areas where we were hiring.

‘We remain committed to our Development Centre in Cambridge, UK, where Amazon has hundreds of talented engineers, research scientists, and technology experts working across a range of innovations. Prime Air continues to have employees in the UK and will keep growing its presence in the region.’ 

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