Amazon’s plans to deliver packages using autonomous drones have hit serious turbulence, with the company removing more than 100 employees from a team that has been “collapsing inwards,” according to a report.
Amazon’s Prime Air team in the UK, which was supposed to pioneer the company’s global drone efforts, has descended into “organized chaos” in the years following its high-profile 2016 launch, Wired reported on Tuesday.
The team has been working on a particularly thorny task: creating drones that can autonomously land outside of customers’ houses or apartment buildings and leave packages unscathed. The company has said that the technology would allow orders to reach customers in 30 minutes or less.
The project was allegedly stymied starting in 2019 by a “near constant churn” of managers and employees, resulting in many people with little technical knowledge of drones or artificial intelligence being given positions of authority.
Several managers knew so little about their work that they couldn’t answer basic questions from the people they were supposed to supervise — and one employee was seen drinking beer at their desk in the morning, according to Wired.
This frequent turnover and chaotic environment pushed more experienced workers out like “rats off a [sinking] ship,” one ex-employee told the magazine.
In a statement to The Post, an Amazon spokesperson said the company “recently made organizational changes in our Prime Air business and were able to find positions for affected employees in other areas where we were hiring.”
“Prime Air continues to have employees in the UK and will keep growing its presence in the region,” the spokesperson added.
Amazon focused its drone program in the UK partially because the country granted the company clearance to conduct test flights in 2016.
In 2020, the Federal Aviation Administration in the US officially gave Amazon similar clearance. But FAA regulations do not currently allow for completely autonomous flights — so even if Amazon were to finish developing its Prime Air technology, the company would have to convince the agency to change its rules to deploy it on a commercial scale.
“When I was there Prime Air was already years from being a thing,” one former employee told Wired. “But it’s never going to get off the ground.”