Amazon unveils new Prime Air drone

Amazon says drone deliveries coming 'within months' with new hybrid drone

Jeff WIlke, chief executive of Amazon worldwide consumer division, announces the Prime Air drone at the company's re:MARS conference.
Jeff WIlke, chief executive of Amazon worldwide consumer division, announces the Prime Air drone at the company's re:MARS conference.

Amazon has announced plans to begin customer deliveries by drone “within months” using a new design of drone.

The company unveiled the Prime Air drone at the re:MARS artificial intelligence conference in Las Vegas, which it says will be used for customer delivery soon, although no timescale or location was set.

Jeff Wilke, chief executive of Amazon worldwide consumer division, previewed the drone, saying it has better use of AI to make it fully autonomous, and with safer and more efficient operation than other rotor drones.

The new design is a hybrid between rotor drone, with six rotors arranged around the main fuselage, and fixed wing aircraft, with a hexagonal guard or shroud acting as a wing for forward flight. The electric powered drone is capable of VTOL, like a normal drone, but can also move along six degrees of movement instead of four for greater stability.

The Prime Air was developed as part of a program to develop drones that could fly 24km with a payload of 2.2kg in under 30 minutes, Wilke said.

In a company blog post, Wilke “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 fulfilment 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.

Wilke said the design makes the aircraft more stable and safe.

The drone also uses enhanced AI, which makes it ‘fully autonomous’, Wilke added: “Some drones are autonomous but not able to react to the unexpected, relying simply on communications systems for situational awareness. If our 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.”

The drone utilised sensors and advanced algorithms such as multi-view stereo vision, to detect static objects, and proprietary computer-vision and machine learning algorithms to spot moving objects, and the drone is able to react while in flight to any unexpected objects.

For landing to deliver at the customer site, the drone uses stereo vision in parallel with AI to detect a clear area or any objects. It drone also includes computer vision technology to detect wires such as clotheslines, telephone wires, or electrical wires.

Wilke said that  Prime Air will help the company achieve its Shipment Zero mission to make Amazon shipments net zero carbon, with 50% of all shipments net zero by 2030.

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