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Amazon reveals top secret 3D printed drone lab in Cambridge UK

According to local news sources in the UK, Amazon has revealed the location of one its 3D printed drone labs. The test site is located on the edge of the British university town of Cambridge, while the research lab is in the center of town. The U.S. online retailer and tech pioneer has also confirmed the research lab is part of an initiative known as Prime Air Service.

3D printing drones for rapid iteration

Amazon are using 3D printing to develop drones that will deliver packages of up to 2kg in under 30 minutes. In the future, Amazon hopes to build drones to travel to delivery addresses, scan for landing spots, descend and deliver the packages in a completely autonomous manner.

Amazon prototype drone. Image via Cambridge News
Amazon prototype drone. Image via Cambridge News

The R&D facility located in the Castle Park area of Cambridge boasts the use of 3D printers to quickly prototype and test new versions of the experimental drones. Although exact details of the equipment used are still not out in the open, Amazon did show an array of their prototypes including a hybrid drone that can achieve both vertical and horizontal flight.

When questioned by a reporter from the Cambridge News an Amazon spokesperson commented, “We are testing many different vehicle designs and delivery mechanisms to discover how best to deliver packages in a variety of environments.” The location of these test flights is an out of town area where drone restrictions have recently being lifted to facilitate this testing.

We have more than a dozen prototypes that we’ve developed in our research and development labs. The look and characteristics of the vehicles will evolve over time.” An Amazon representative commented.

Technical challenges

Along with the technical challenges of achieving truly autonomous flight, Amazon faces regulatory hurdles – from the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) in the U.S. and local regulators in other countries where operations are planned – it must get past before the Prime Air Service is a reality.

3D printing at Amazon's Cambridge Lab. Image via Cambridge News
3D printing at Amazon’s Cambridge Lab. Image via Cambridge News

For now, Amazon has managed to get the support of the CAA (Civil Aviation Authority) in the UK to perform key tests including beyond-line-of-sight operations, as well as using a single operator to handle multiple drones. This was granted in July earlier this year.

Along with Amazon, a series of companies have also taken steps towards autonomous deliveries, including an interesting partnership between Walmart and Chinese manufacturer DJI, Google with Project Wing and Australian approved drone company Flirtey.

3D printing’s ability to rapidly make digital designs a physical reality, and to quickly iterate different prototypes mean that Amazon and -most likely these other groups- will be hoping the technology gives them a competitive edge.

Source and images.