When Amazon said it would take its delivery drone testing abroad, it wasn’t kidding. The Guardian has learned that the internet shopping giant is testing its robotic Prime Air couriers in Canada (the province of British Columbia, to be exact) to get around what it sees as frustratingly slow US approval. As Amazon’s Paul Misener explains, the company isn’t willing to wait until American regulators find an “impetus” to legalize these drones. It rejects the Federal Aviation Administration’s portrayal of US airspace as uniquely complex. Canada and European countries also have a lot of air traffic, but they’ve still approved lots of testing and commercial drone flights.
It’ll be a while before Amazon has to confront US regulators directly. Most of the Canadian experiments are for basic features like obstacle avoidance and safety procedures, such as when drones lose their connection. There won’t be a truly new prototype until the retailer has “strong confidence” that it can make a demonstrably safe and environmentally responsible machine. However, that conflict is likely coming so long as Amazon wants to serve its home market — the FAA’s proposed line of sight requirements make Prime Air impossible.