Amazon’s longtime goal of a drone delivery solution that scales to meet the needs of customers is close to fruition. The latest Amazon Prime Air drone design was presented by the company at the re:MARS Conference (Machine Learning, Automation, Robotics, and Space), held last month in Las Vegas.
“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. 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.
Our newest drone design includes advances in efficiency, stability and, most importantly, in safety. It is also unique, and it advances the state of the art. How so? First, it’s a hybrid design. It can do vertical takeoffs and landings – like a helicopter. And it’s efficient and aerodynamic – like an airplane”, said Jeff Wilke, CEO of Amazon Worldwide Consumer.
The drone makes an easy transition between vertical and airplane mode and then back to vertical mode, being 100% shrouded for safety and very 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.
Amazon reps believe that customers will only feel comfortable receiving drone deliveries if they know the system is incredibly safe. In order to do so, they are building a drone that is not only safe but independently safe, using the latest AI (artificial intelligence) technologies in the process.
Some drones are autonomous but not able to react to the unexpected, relying simply on communications systems for situational awareness. Amazon Prime Air’s drones are also independent and this can be easily explained by describing the two of the drone’s main delivery stages: In transit to a destination, and when approaching the ground.
When in transit, Amazon Prime Air drones need to be able to identify static and moving objects coming from any direction. The company employed sensors and advanced algorithms, such as multi-view stereo vision, to detect static objects like a chimney. In order to detect moving objects, like a para-glider or helicopter, Amazon used proprietary computer-vision and machine learning algorithms.
When approaching the ground to descend for delivery, the drone requires a small area around the delivery location that is clear of people, animals, or obstacles. The gadget itself 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 we’ve invented, Amazon Prime Air drones can recognize and avoid wires as they descend into, and ascend out of a customer’s yard.
“We’re also thrilled about the potential environmental impact. Prime Air is one of many sustainability initiatives to help achieve Shipment Zero, the company’s 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. 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. Our drones are safe, efficient, stable, and good for the environment. We know customers have high standards, so we set a high bar for Prime Air. And we’re excited to be months away from nearing our goal”, Wilke believes.