Tech Innovation

Amazon Prime Air: Drone deliveries fly closer to reality in new video

Update: You wait ages for a drone delivery and then two come along at once. No sooner has Just Eat used a Starship Technologies robot to deliver a London takeaway, than Amazon has flown its first parcel by fully autonomous Prime Air drone.

On December 7 2016, Amazon completed its first Prime Air delivery, shipping a Fire TV stick and a bag of popcorn from its drone base in Cambridgeshire. According to Amazon, it only took 13 minutes for the order to be fulfilled. The Prime Air drone flew autonomously guided by GPS, dropping off the package in a field outside the customer’s house.

You can watch the actual flight footage in the video below.

Things have changed somewhat since we first wrote about Amazon Prime Air — see the original article below. For a start, Amazon has redesigned its quadcopter drone, slimming down the chassis and removing the rear propeller. The drones now trundle out of the fulfilment centre on tracks, returning to set down on one of several landing pads.

Original article: Enjoy our peaceful skies while you can. If Amazon redefines the future of home delivery with its proposed Prime Air drone courier service, then tomorrow’s airspace will be cluttered with buzzing UAVs carrying everything from football boots to Blu-Ray discs.

The shopping giant recently offered another teasing glimpse into Prime Air with a Jeremy Clarkson-fronted ad showing how a same-day, aerially-dispatched order might work. We see a new drone design that flies at a height of nearly 400 feet (the Civil Aviation Authority doesn’t permit drones to fly above this height) and has a range of 15 miles.

We learn how Amazon envisages a futuristic drone fleet with different UAV designs for different tasks and environments — Amazon says that it has developed “more than a dozen prototypes” in its research and development labs. The drone featured is designed to carry parcels weighing less than 55 pounds (25 Kg), auto-navigating around any obstacles on the ground and in the air. Watch the video below.

How will it work? “Prime Air vehicles will take advantage of sophisticated ‘sense and avoid’ technology,” says Amazon, “as well as a high degree of automation, to safely operate beyond the line of sight to distances of 10 miles or more.”

Such advanced obstacle avoidance technology already exists — if you haven’t seen the Intel RealSense-equipped ASCTEC Firefly drone fly through a dense wood on its own, then catch up on the amazing video here.

The Amazon video is keen to point out that what you’re seeing is ‘actual flight footage’, nothing is simulated. Which means that the drone exists, the ability to fly it from warehouse to customer could already work, and that all a customer needs to do is place an Amazon logo in their garden for the Prime Air bot to use as a landing pad.

amazon prime air drone delivery

Of course, while Prime Air drone deliveries in 30 minutes or less might be technically possible, they’re not yet legally possible.

As the CAA’s Article 166 for Small Unmanned Aircraft states: “The person in charge of a small unmanned aircraft must maintain direct, unaided visual contact with the aircraft sufficient to monitor its flight path in relation to other aircraft, persons, vehicles, vessels and structures for the purpose of avoiding collisions.”

With plans to fly its drones 15 miles or more automatically, Amazon will need to show that this can be done safely, that vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communication can be reliably maintained and that onboard self-avoidance systems will work day and night, in all weathers.

amazon prime air drone view

But surely, it’s just a matter of time. With governments already relaxing road regulations to allow self-driving cars onto our roads, it won’t be long before you can choose an Amazon Prime Air delivery option that will fly your purchase directly to your door. Or rather to your garden, driveway, or any other suitably roomy landing zone.

With Starship Technologies developing robotic delivery carts and Prime Air drones buzzing through the skies, the delivery drivers of the future might need to find another line of work. — Dean Evans (@evansdp)

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