In May 2017, Amazon announced the opening of a new Prime Air Development Center in Clichy, France, to boost research and development into its drone delivery program. Today, the dozen-strong team focusing on drone navigation stands reassigned to new roles.
The French R&D team was brought in to develop “the world’s safest and most sophisticated traffic management software for autonomous drones.” As Amazon explained in a press statement then:
The drone traffic management software will complement the existing air traffic control system and help safely integrate drones flying beyond the line of sight into the airspace. It will enable safe low-altitude drone operations, providing airspace access and geofencing; real-time identification and separation of airborne traffic, and; flight planning including contingency management and severe weather avoidance.
Beginning September 2020, however, at least eight from the French team have been working on COVID-19-testing software instead, a Bloomberg report highlights.
To its credit, Amazon did explain the move in a blog post:
When it became clear in March that testing Amazon employees for COVID-19 was going to be of critical importance, we assembled a team with a variety of skills — from research scientists and program managers to procurement specialists and software engineers — and moved them from their day jobs to focus on this initiative.
More than a year later though, neither those employees have been moved back to their original roles, nor is Amazon looking to hire for Prime Air in France. The company does have around 114 full-time open positions for its Prime Air division, but they’re mainly based in the US.
Moreover, this is not the first time we’re seeing Amazon moving people out of the Prime Air project. The company has reportedly fired more than 100 Prime Air employees in the United Kingdom, while many others have been transferred into different roles abroad. Reports of internal conflict, high turnover, and continued launch delays have also put Amazon’s lofty drone delivery ambitions under the scanner.
In the meantime, Amazon spokespeople refuse to deviate from their scripted replies on the progress of the drone delivery program that the company first teased in 2013:
Prime Air continues to make great strides toward our vision of customer orders in 30 minutes or less by drone. We recognize the only solution worth launching is one that is safe and we continue to partner closely with regulators in that mission.
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