Amazon has revealed a new drone design for its Prime Air delivery program. The shopping behemoth used its re:MARS Conference (Machine Learning, Automation, Robotics and Space) in Las Vegas to debut the hexagonal drone, which it says in a press statement can “fly up to 15 miles and deliver packages under five pounds to customers in less than 30 minutes.”
The company calls the drone a “hybrid design,” capable of both vertical takeoffs and landings, “like a helicopter.” Jeff Wilke, CEO of Amazon’s worldwide consumer division, says he hopes to be using the drones “within months.”
Amazon began drone deliveries in England in 2016. Although it has not announced where these drones will be flying, it’s safe to assume they won’t take to the skies in America, where regulations are still onerous. Since 2012, Amazon says it has deployed 200,000 robotic drive units in its operations.
The drone appears to be built for customers with ample backyards. Amazon says it needs “a small area around the delivery location that is clear of people, animals, or obstacles,” which likely eliminates many crowded urban areas. But backyards present their own challenges, which the company says it has dealt with. “A customer’s yard may have clotheslines, telephone wires, or electrical wires. Wire detection is one of the hardest challenges for low-altitude flights,” says the company’s press statement. “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.”
Wherever the drones are used, they will reduce deliveries. And Amazon is quick to note the green implications of the drones: They will “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.” However, the company doesn’t mention if the drones will affect any of its legions of drivers.
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