In a quest to deliver packages faster, Amazon continues to look in technology to bring that dream to reality.
This week the company announced it would deliver millions of products to Prime members for free within one day in the US, setting a new standard in eCommerce delivery.
But Amazon is not standing still, and it is still pursuing their goal of even faster service by pioneering autonomous drone technology.
This week at Amazon’s re:MARS Conference (Machine Learning, Automation, Robotics and Space) in Las Vegas, the company unveiled their latest Prime Air drone design.
Amazon has been working to build fully electric drones that can fly up to 15 miles and deliver packages under five pounds to customers in less than 30 minutes.
With the help of their fulfillment and delivery network, Amazon expects to scale Prime Air both quickly and efficiently, delivering packages via drone to customers within months.
Advances In Efficiency
Their newest drone design includes advances in efficiency, stability and, most importantly, in safety. It is also unique and advances the state-of-the art.
The drone is a hybrid design that can do vertical takeoffs and landings – like a helicopter. It is also efficient and aerodynamic – like an airplane. It easily transitions between these two modes – from vertical-mode to airplane mode, and back to vertical mode.
The drone is fully shrouded for safety and the shrouds are also the wings, which makes it efficient in flight.
The distinctive aircraft is controlled with six degrees of freedom, as opposed to the standard four. This makes it more stable, and capable of operating safely in more gusty wind conditions.
The company provided a flight video along with additional details showing off their new creation.
Amazon’s drones need to be able to identify static and moving objects coming from any direction.
Their new design uses diverse sensors and advanced algorithms, such as multi-view stereo vision, to detect static objects like a chimney.
To detect moving objects, like a paraglider or helicopter, Amazon uses proprietary computer-vision and machine learning algorithms.
Approaching The Ground
For the drone to descend for delivery, Amazon’s drones need a small area around the delivery location clear of people, animals, or obstacles.
The technology determines this by using explainable 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. Wire detection is one of the hardest challenges for low-altitude flights.
Through the use of computer-vision techniques Amazon invented, their drones can recognize and avoid wires as they descend into, and ascend out of, a customer’s yard.
First Introduced In 2013
It’s hard to believe Jeff Bezos showed off drones to the public back in 2013 in a 60 Minutes segment on CBS.
Many people thought by now there would be some drones in use by the online retailer in its logistics network.
But regulatory hurdles and technology challenges to make the drones safe and accepted by the public means that US drone deliveries are still some time off.
Amazon claims they will start drone deliveries within months, but likely that will be a few routes in remote locations.
But it appears it may still be years before Amazon will use a large fleet of autonomous drones to deliver packages all around the US.