When Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s chief executive, first said that the e-commerce giant wanted to use drones to deliver packages directly to customers’ homes, many people thought he was crazy.
Three years later, his claims no longer look so outlandish.
On Wednesday, Bezos announced on Twitter that his company had made its first commercial drone delivery, on Dec. 7, to an Amazon shopper in Cambridgeshire, England, a major step forward in its experiments with automated shipments.
The flight – to deliver an Amazon Fire streaming device and popcorn to a customer identified only as Richard B. – took off from a nearby Amazon warehouse and lasted 13 minutes, covering about two miles.
Amazon said it would now test drone deliveries with two more customers near Cambridge, an English city where the company has a large drone-testing plant. If the tests are successful, the company says it wants to expand the number of consumers who could participate in the trial to dozens in the coming months, eventually allowing hundreds to use the drone service.
The start of customer trials for the drone delivery service, which Amazon calls Prime Air, is a milestone for a technology that could eventually automate an important part of Amazon’s business as the company looks to cement its position as the world’s dominant online retailer.
Experts say that the advent of widespread drone deliveries, even if technically possible, would take years, and regulators from the United States and elsewhere could block the plans.
The fact that Amazon’s latest drone tests were in Britain is no coincidence.
They are testing those drones here because they can’t do it in America. Whatever the Americans don’t want, I don’t want it, either.
Julia Napier of Cambridgeshire, England
The country’s regulators have been more cooperative than their U.S. counterparts about such flights, even signing an agreement with Amazon in July to allow the testing of drones in rural and suburban areas.
Not all of the residents in the area have been fans.
Julia Napier, who helped found a Cambridgeshire association that maintains public footpaths around one of Amazon’s test sites, said the company’s drones threatened wildlife and the wider countryside, something that the company has denied.
“They are testing those drones here because they can’t do it in America,” she said. “Whatever the Americans don’t want, I don’t want it, either.”