UK could beat US to Amazon drone deliveries

…and there’s more grist to the Apple car rumour mill, too

The Government’s Transport Minister, Robert Goodwill, has been involved in talks with Amazon to bring UAV drone deliveries to the UK.

Speaking this morning at the SMMT’s Connected event, Goodwill said, “I had some people from Amazon come to see me the other day. They want to replace van deliveries with drone deliveries, and they can’t do trials in the US because they’re over-regulated.”

“My favourite word is de-regulation.”

Goodwill’s comments echo those made this Tuesday by Paul Misener, Amazon’s VP of global public policy, at a US Senate subcommittee. He said, “While the FAA was considering our applications for testing, we innovated so rapidly that the [drone] approved last week by the FAA (Federal Aviation Authority) has become obsolete. We don’t test it anymore. We’ve moved on to more advanced designs that we already are testing abroad."

Drones have come under scrutiny because of their implications for privacy and safety, and governing bodies around the globe are still ironing out regulatory details. Just last month, the House of Lords introduced a register for drone pilots, and the FAA in the US has only recently authorised the testing of drones for commercial purposes.

Amazon is yet to confirm when a commercial drone delivery service will be in operation, stating, "We will deploy when and where we have the regulatory support needed to realize our vision." The Prime Air service is intended to provide deliveries within 30 minutes after purchase.

On the subject of autonomous and connected transport, the Transport Minister said the UK is eager to create an environment ripe for innovation and investment from home and abroad. 

“While people in America France and Germany were building their motor cars, the UK was held back by government regulation, and it wasn’t until the red flag act was repealed in 1896 that we got ourselves into gear. We don’t want to repeat those mistakes. 

“Wherever you are in the world and you want to innovate and you want to invest in this sort of technology, come to the UK because we’re here to help you. We don’t want to be left behind this time - we want to give you the green light, not a red flag.”

The Transport Minister’s comments formed part of a press conference and talk regarding the UK’s suitability to autonomous and connected car development and adoption. SMMT-commissioned research by KPMG suggests that connected and autonomous vehicles will help generate 320,000 jobs, a £51bn boost to the UK economy and 25,000 fewer accidents per year by 2030. And these are net figures: KPMG's John Leech claims they take into account the job losses associated with robots in roles such as delivery driving.

The reported benefits are expected to result from a boost of the UK manufacturing and increased productivity based on the flexibility autonomous vehicles will provide. Self-driving cars could also increase the efficiency of the transport infrastructure.

The road ahead isn't exactly smooth, however: industry-standard connectivity allowing cars to communicate with the road network and one another will need to be settled before automated dreams become possible, as well as issues surrounding the 'stupid' cars that will inhabit our highways for the next three decades.

Apple’s car is more than a rumour

In a seemingly off-the-cuff remark during his talk at the SMMT event, Jaguar Land Rover’s Group Engineering Director Dr Wolfgang Ziebart appeared to confirm that Apple it is making its own car like Google. “Well, Apple didn’t announce it, but it is happening,” he said, and went on to mention that the company hadn’t denied the project.

Dr Ziebart may well have insider knowledge - he was previously chairman of the board at Infineon Technologies AG, the German semiconductor company responsible for making the baseband chipsets of early iPhone and iPad models. His comment follows last month’s Business Insider reports that Apple has been recruiting from the likes of Tesla for an automotive project.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Apple is working on an electric, minivan-like vehicle. The ’Titan’ project is reportedly being headed up by Apple vice president and ex-Ford executive Steve Zadesky, and the vehicle designed by Marc Newsom. The WSJ says the car will not be autonomous, but a conflicting report from Reuters suggests that it actually will be a self-driving vehicle.

The SMMT - the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders - supports the interests of the UK motor industry at home and abroad, hosting the Connected event to explore issues surrounding the burgeoning smart car market.