The new autonomous drone was unveiled at Amazon’s re:MARS Conference (Machine Learning, Automation, Robotics and Space) in Las Vegas. The aim, says the company, is to be able to deliver packages to customers even faster than its one-day delivery service.
“We’ve been hard at work building fully electric drones that can fly up to 15 miles and deliver packages under five pounds to customers in less than 30 minutes,” says Jeff Wilke, CEO of Amazon Worldwide Consumer. “And, with the help of our world-class fulfillment and delivery network, we expect to scale Prime Air both quickly and efficiently, delivering packages via drone to customers within months.”
Featuring advances in efficiency, stability, and safety, the newest drone design is a hybrid design. It can do vertical takeoffs and landings like a helicopter, while at the same time it’s efficient and aerodynamic like an airplane, says the company. It also easily transitions between the two modes – from vertical mode to airplane mode, and back to vertical mode.
It’s also fully shrouded for safety. The shrouds are also the wings, which makes it efficient in flight. In addition, it’s controlled with six degrees of freedom, as opposed to the standard four, making it more stable and capable of operating safely in more gusty wind conditions.
“We know customers will only feel comfortable receiving drone deliveries if they know the system is incredibly safe,” says Wilke. “So we’re building a drone that isn’t just safe, but independently safe, using the latest artificial intelligence (AI) technologies.”
For example, says the company, if the drone’s flight environment changes, or its mission commands it to come into contact with an object that wasn’t there previously, it will refuse to do so. In transit the drone uses a variety of sensors and advanced algorithms to detect static objects, such as a chimney; to detect moving objects like a paraglider or helicopter, it uses proprietary computer-vision and machine learning algorithms.
When approaching the ground, the drone needs a small area around the delivery location that is clear of people, animals, or obstacles. It determines this using stereo vision in parallel with sophisticated AI algorithms trained to detect people and animals from above.
“A customer’s yard may have clotheslines, telephone wires, or electrical wires,” says Wilke. “Wire detection is one of the hardest challenges for low-altitude flights. Through the use of computer-vision techniques we’ve invented, our drones can recognize and avoid wires as they descend into, and ascend out of, a customer’s yard.”
The drone and Prime Air are one of the company’s sustainability initiatives designed to help it achieve Shipment Zero – its vision to make all Amazon shipments net zero carbon, with 50% of all shipments net zero by 2030.
“When it comes to emissions and energy efficiency, an electric drone, charged using sustainable means, traveling to drop off a package is a vast improvement over a car on the road,” says Wilke. “Today, most of us run to the store because we need an item now. With a service like Prime Air, we’ll be able to order from home and stay home. This saves tremendously on fuel usage and reduces emissions.”
The company has been testing out its Prime Air delivery drone service since 2016 in selected areas.
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