Amazon’s hybrid drone behaves as both a helicopter and airplane.
Nearly two years after Amazon first teased us with promises of a drone delivery service, the Internet retail giant has offered a closer look at its plans for the unmanned aerial vehicles.
In a video posted to YouTube on Sunday, Amazon showed off a new prototype drone it hopes to use to deliver small packages to customers in fewer than 30 minutes. Unlike a previous demonstration offered by Amazon that showed packages being carried below the drone, the new video shows the prototype accepting a package into its fuselage before delivery.
Part of a “family” of drones, the “hybrid” drone is shown in the video taking off vertically like a helicopter and then switching to a more airplane-like flight. Using “sense and avoid” technology, the drone can avoid potential obstacles in the air and on the ground for a range of 15 miles, Amazon said.
“In time there will be a whole family of Amazon drones, different designs for different environments,” says Jeremy Clarkson, the ex-Top Gear host who moderates the video.
Retailers such as Amazon and Walmart are continually looking for new ways to get a jump on the competition and attract customers. Speedy delivery is one strategy. Small, unmanned commercial drones would avoid the delays of standard postal service by flying through the air to deliver a package directly to a customer’s home.
Amazon made a splash in December 2013 when it announced it was testing a drone delivery service. Dubbed Amazon Prime Air, the idea is to deliver shoebox-size packages to customers with unmanned aerial vehicles — about the size of a remote-controlled airplane — faster than other delivery services. However, the service can’t take off until the FAA figures out how it will regulate unmanned aircraft when they’re used for commercial purposes.
Even as the FAA enforces its ban on unlicensed commercial drone operations, the agency is working on rules to permit drones without business having to secure specific permission. It’s released draft regulations but missed a September deadline to finalize those rules.
Amazon did not immediately respond to a request for additional information.
The creation of new drones and the interest in using them commercially has exploded in the past few years. The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International claims the first three years of integration of drones in the US skies will create more than 70,000 jobs and create an economic impact of $13.6 billion.