Proving the Business Case for the Internet of Things

Amazon high-tech drone to make deliveries within months

Steve Rogerson
June 18, 2019

Amazon’s latest drone could be making deliveries of packages within months, according to Jeff Wilke (pictured), CEO of Amazon’s worldwide consumer business, speaking at this month’s Amazon Re: Mars conference in Las Vegas.
The Prime Air is a fully electric drone that can fly up to 24km and deliver packages under 2.25kg to customers in less than 30 minutes.
“With the help of our world-class fulfilment and delivery network, we expect to scale Prime Air both quickly and efficiently, delivering packages via drone to customers within months,” said Wilke.
He said response to the announcement earlier this year that Amazon was evolving its Prime two-day shipping offer in the USA to a one-day programme, was “terrific”, but it knew customers were always looking for something better, more convenient and there may be times when one-day delivery may not be the right choice.
“Can we deliver packages to customers even faster?” he said. “We think the answer is yes, and one way we’re pursuing that goal is by pioneering autonomous drone technology.”
The latest drone design includes advances in efficiency, stability and safety. It is a hybrid design that can do vertical takeoffs and landings like a helicopter and is efficient and aerodynamic like an airplane. It can transitions between these two modes, from vertical-mode to airplane mode, and back to vertical mode.
It’s fully shrouded for safety. The shrouds are also the wings, which makes it efficient in flight.
The 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.
“We know customers will only feel comfortable receiving drone deliveries if they know the system is incredibly safe,” said Wilke. “So we’re building a drone that isn’t just safe, but independently safe, using the latest artificial intelligence technologies.”
What that means is whereas some drones are autonomous but not able to react to the unexpected, relying simply on communications systems for situational awareness, if this drone’s flight environment changes, or the drone‘s mission commands it to come into contact with an object that wasn’t there previously, it will refuse to do so; it is independently safe.
To identify static and moving objects coming from any direction, it uses sensors and algorithms, such as multi-view stereo vision to detect static objects such as a chimney. To detect moving objects, such as a paraglider or helicopter, it uses proprietary computer-vision and machine learning algorithms.
For the drone to descend for delivery, it 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 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, the drones can recognise and avoid wires as they descend into, and ascend out of, a customer’s yard.
“We’re also thrilled about the potential environmental impact,” said Wilke. “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 nearing our goal.”