Amazon’s Prime Air drone delivery team is so secretive that employees are often forced to use fake employer names in public

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Amazon’s retail chief Jeff Wilke reveals Prime Air’s new drone model at the 2019 Re:Mars robotic conference. JORDAN STEAD/ Amazon

Amazon’s Prime Air drone delivery team is known for its secretive culture.

There are many reasons for this, including the immense amount of public attention drawn to Amazon’s futuristic project and the competitive nature of the drone industry in general, according to people on the team. Amazon wants to make sure its latest drone design or technology doesn’t leak.

But that closed-up culture has backfired in some ways, too.

For example, when the team tested its drones in employee backyards to collect real-world data, they were frequently interrupted by law enforcement who showed up after suspicious neighbours, who didn’t get sufficient answers about the team’s identity, called them to check in. Since employees were not allowed to say who they worked for, they often had to use fake team names, like “Project Venice” when asked about their affiliation.

The constant interruptions and changing test sites delayed the overall drone development process, these people said.

The team did other things to keep its culture as confidential as possible. Its most important documents are saved in a separate back-end system under a more secure password. Employees use a black shield that covers their company ID cards. They are strictly prohibited from sharing the exact address of the office, which is located in a nondescript building in the greater Seattle area.

That culture at Prime Air, however, created an isolated organisation detached from the main headquarters. In fact, it wasn’t until a couple years ago that Amazon painted the Prime Air office’s walls with its famous leadership principles to infuse that part of the company’s culture.

Some employees said it allowed the team to keep a more loose work culture, which often led to a second-half rush to produce tangible results that could be shown to the leadership team. In 2016, for example, the team ended up using a drone model that wasn’t capable of being deployed in a wider commercial launch just so they could film the demo video and create buzz around its service.

You can read more about the Prime Air team’s internal culture and recent struggles here.