A British delivery firm has beaten Amazon to complete the UK’s first test delivery by drone, shipping a belt tensioner to a customer aboard a modified off-the-shelf unmanned aircraft.
Warwickshire-based FPS Distribution has partnered with Yorkshire firm Droneflight to carry out the trial, delivering the component inside a waterproof box from the FPS National Distribution Centre in Sheffield to a local customer, Brakeline.
The firm said the modified drone was able to travel at a speed of up to 30 miles per hour, covering the distance of about seven miles without having to recharge its battery.
“In the short term, the drone solution is likely to be cost prohibitive, and with current legislation we are not planning any changes any time soon,” said FPS managing director Neil Davis. “In addition, given the varied weight of products in our portfolio, it would only really be viable for lightweight parts travelling to customers in less populated zones. However this has proved a very useful exercise to form our future vision.”
Under regulations issued by the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), small UAVs not equipped with radar transponders can only be flown legally within segregated airspace or within the line of sight of the operator up to a maximum altitude of 400ft (120m).
The regulations also forbid drones to be flown above densely populated areas.
FPS said the items delivered during the trial weighed up to 7kg and the aircraft was piloted by operators certified by CAA.
The firm added that to allow delivery companies to make the technology a stable part of their fleets, multiple problems would have to be solved. For example, the drone’s compass can currently be confused by metal racking in the warehouse. The operations are also impossible in bad weather, particularly in strong winds.
“We were very excited to work with FPS on this project, and be part of this ground-breaking delivery,” said Andrew Griffiths from Droneflight. “Drones have the potential to transform many activities not just filming. Inspection, surveying, mapping and even disaster relief all benefit from this technology.”
In addition to the technical issues, regulatory hurdles would have to be solved if the drone deliveries are to fully take off the ground, the firm said.
Last week, Amazon obtained a permission from the US Federal Aviation Agency to trial its delivery drones in the outdoor environment in the US for the first time.
However, the slow pace at which US drone regulation is developing has allowed companies in other countries, such as the UK, Japan and China, to get a headstart in the marketplace at the expense of American firms.
Amazon Prime drone infographic