The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Amazon makes its first drone delivery to a real customer

An Amazon Prime Air drone in flight. (Amazon)
Placeholder while article actions load has long talked about its ambitions for using drones to deliver small parcels to its legions of customers. Now, it appears the e-commerce giant is one step closer to that goal.

On Wednesday, the company said that it has made its first autonomous drone delivery — an order for an Amazon Fire TV streaming device and a bag of popcorn — to a shopper in the United Kingdom.

Jeffrey P. Bezos, the chief executive of Amazon and owner of The Washington Post, tweeted Wednesday morning that the box was at the customer’s home 13 minutes after the order was placed.

This single delivery hardly means we’ll soon be seeing a flurry of Amazon drones descending on our neighborhoods. Amazon considers the program to be in “beta test” mode; in fact, only two customers are part of its Prime Air trial so far. In a video, the company said it plans to soon expand the offering to dozens and then hundreds of customers, all in England’s Cambridge area.

It is not surprising that Amazon’s first Prime Air drop-off took place in the United Kingdom. The company announced last summer that it had received permission from the U.K. government to conduct tests for drone delivery. There were also signs that suggested this region was a site for experimentation, including job postings for positions at an Amazon facility in the area.

Amazon has stated for a while now that it intends to use drones for delivering small parcels weighing no more than 5 pounds. However, it is worth noting that the company has said the vast majority of its packages — some 86 percent of them — are under that weight limit. So, if regulators and policymakers around the world clear the way for Amazon to deliver this way, drones could have wide application for the e-commerce site.

Amazon’s bid to deliver via drone is just one of its nascent attempts to shake up how it moves goods to its shoppers. The company also has an Uber-like network of drivers called Amazon Flex, and it has leased dozens of cargo planes that will ferry products from one Amazon facility to another. Earlier this year, it put thousands of its own truck trailers on the road to bolster its supply chain.

Prime Air is a delivery system from Amazon designed to safely get packages to customers in 30 minutes or less using unmanned drones. (Video: Amazon)