Can we trust Amazon drones?

20th November 2019

There may soon be more than birds and aeroplanes to spot if online retailer and tech company Amazon gets its way. The use of drones has been on the cards for years but now that the multinational company has finally made a safe version. Or so it believes.  

A report on youtalkinsurance.com says that the company announced its ambitions at a conference in Las Vegas with its executive Jeff Wilke declaring its drones now to be ‘independently safe’. He explained that the drones will react to the unexpected, saying: “If our drone’s flight environment changes, or the drone’s mission commands it to come into contact with an object that wasn’t there previously, it will refuse to do so – it is independently safe”.

According to youtalkinsurance.com’s report the company has already won over the US Federal Aviation Administration and that it’s now allowed to operate the drones in America. It’s unclear where the initial trials will take place, but these drones will be able to travel fair distances (about 15 miles and can carry packages of around 5lbs) out of the sight of the operator. 

Having a company of Amazon’s size filling our airspaces with drones will undoubtedly create opportunities as well as challenges for the insurance industry. It will have to conduct its own risk analysis on how reactive these robots really are to ‘changes in the environment.’

Will they be able to dodge birds? Change flight patterns when the weather changes into a storm?

Will it get out of the way of humans operating their own drones? Flying drones in the UK has become a bit more difficult now that users must sit an online test and pay a £9 annual fee. But these hoops combined are not going to deter most enthusiasts. With commercial drones entering our skies – will this not create overcrowding in our airspace?

And how can operators ensure that they won’t suddenly lose power and crash land onto buildings or, worse, into people or animals and causing injury or perhaps death?

While Amazon appear to be confident about their technology and drones there’s always the potential for things to go wrong. Will Amazon be able to get public liability cover for its fleet of drones or will it have to self-insure? And if something were to happen, would Amazon ever be able to recover its reputation?

On the flipside, of course, insurers will have the opportunity to cover an entire fleet of drones that Amazon are bound to operate. Amazon delivers billions of packages every year, so these flying robots are going to be busy. Will they be able to have the stamina for such work?

Amazon won’t be the first or the last company to make use of drones. According to the Wall Street Journal, Alphabet Inc.’s Wing and Uber Technologies Inc. are also starting trials with drone delivery. So not only will we have our gadgets and books delivered by drones but possibly our food and medicines as well.  

There’s no doubt that drones will provide companies with a very efficient way to deliver products right to our door. But drones have proven to be a hazard as passengers of Gatwick airport can attest.

While Amazon may have made a lot of progress in the US, we’re sure that the UK public as well as insurers and brokers may need more convincing that this is a good idea for British skies.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay 

 

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