Amazon is having trouble in taking its drone deliveries off the ground and it is leading to a high employee turnover rate and potential safety risks.
There have been five crashes reported over the course of a four-month period at the company’s testing site in Pendleton, Oregon. A crash in May took place after a drone lost its propeller, but Bloomberg says Amazon cleaned up the wreckage before the Federal Aviation Administration could investigate.
The next month, a drone’s motor shut off as it switched from an upward flight path to flying straight ahead.
“Instead of a controlled descent to a safe landing, [the drone] dropped about 160 feet in an uncontrolled vertical fall and was consumed by fire,” the FAA said in a report of the incident obtained by Bloomberg.
Former Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos first announced 30-minute drone deliveries in 2013, and almost 10 years later, we still don’t have drones delivering Amazon packages to our doorsteps.
“Safety is our top priority,” Zammit said. “We use a closed, private facility to test our systems up to their limits and beyond. With rigorous testing like this, we expect these types of events to occur, and we apply the learnings from each flight towards improving safety. No one has ever been injured or harmed because of these flights, and each test is done in compliance with all applicable regulations.”
Cheddi Skeete, a former drone project manager at Amazon, said he was fired last month for voicing his concerns about safety.
“We take safety reporting seriously — we have a safety reporting system that’s well-known by all our team members, and we encourage them to raise any safety suggestions and concerns,” Zammit told The Verge. “In addition to using this system, we encourage employees to provide any other feedback they may have through their manager, HR, or our leadership team.”
David Johnson, a former drone flight assistant for Amazon, told Bloomberg that Amazon would sometimes perform tests “without a full flight team” and with “inadequate equipment.” Johnson also said the company often assigned multiple roles to one person; a claim Bloomberg says is corroborated by two other former Amazon employees.
“They give people multiple things to do in a very narrow window of time to try to boost their numbers, and people cut corners,” Johnson told Bloomberg. “They were more concerned about pumping flights out and didn’t want to slow down.”
Zammit denied Johnson’s claims, stating: “Crew members are assigned to only one role per flight. Before each flight test, crew members are briefed on their individual roles,” Zammit explained. We do not set time limits for completion of any aspect of our flight tests, and our team can take their time to complete their roles safely.”