November 17, 2014

Throw a turnip at it: Amazon drones taken down the British way


Image via Wikipedia, menace  via Amazon.

Image via Wikipedia, menace via Amazon.

Amazon has listed a job posting for a drone pilot in its Cambridge, UK location, and the reaction to the news by Terry Holloway, managing director of the Cambridge Aero Club, is basically the best thing ever.

Holloway was interviewed last week by Gareth McPherson for the Cambridge News, and he criticized the idea of Amazon testing out drones in Cambridge, as they appear to be on the verge of doing, from pragmatic, legal, hypothetical, psychological, and turnip-based standpoints. Behold, the demolishing:

“It makes no sense to me, a barking mad idea. From a legislative point of view the Civil Aviation Authority rules as they currently exist means it’s just totally unfeasible to even consider doing this.

“Maybe the CAA will relax the rules, but then that begs all sorts of questions from the everyday man on the street. I have real concerns about how they will deliver parcels safely and then you might have yobs who will see them as targets and throw turnips at them and whatever else.”

He added: “What strikes me is you can post a letter or a parcel and within 12 hours it can be delivered to other end of the country. It’s a fantastic system that is fast, cheap and safe. Why would you want to do this instead?”

It had honestly never occurred to me to throw a turnip at an Amazon drone, or that anyone would ever think of throwing any kind of root vegetable at one of those flying blenders. I was sort of hoping that the German storks would take them all out.

But it had occurred to me that drone delivery, which has still not been cleared by the Federal Aviation Authority in the United States, is probably subject to similar restrictions in the United Kingdom. This has also occurred to Amazon, who is planning on doing all of its early drone delivery testing in India, according to the Economic Times. An anonymous source told the paper back in the summer that Amazon would “debut its drone delivery service with trials in Mumbai and Bangalore, cities where it has warehouses,” possibly around Diwali, which is a major shopping and gift-giving festival in the Indian calendar. Diwali has since come and gone, and there was no word about drone deliveries, though it’s probably not far off.

They know they’re not on the right side of the law in the UK yet, where all operators of unmanned aircraft must have permission from the Civil Aviation Authority (which Amazon doesn’t have), must be able to see, unaided, the drone as it’s being flown (which wouldn’t be practical for delivery services—the operator might as well just drop off the package themselves at that point), and must not fly the drone within 150 meters of a congested area (ditto practicality issues).

Amazon’s comments on the job posting were accordingly a familiar corporate-bland. From a BBC article:

In a statement issued when it was quizzed about the ads, Amazon said: “We have multiple Prime Air development centres, including R&D labs in Seattle and Cambridge.

“We’re always looking to add great talent to the team; the Cambridge-based Prime Air positions we have open are a reflection of that.”

They have indeed been beefing up their US staff as well, as George Anders wrote about for Forbes earlier in the year, in a revealing piece on the jobs up on the Amazon Careers board. One of those listings was for a communications manager “comfortable dealing with ambiguity and able to form a cohesive and effective outcome from potentially incongruous facts.” Now that’s a job description truly deserving of a turnip, or ten.


Sal Robinson is a former Melville House editor. She's also the co-founder of the Bridge Series, a reading series focused on translation.