June 06, 2019      

LAS VEGAS – The keynote session for Day 2 at the Amazon re:MARS event included a slew of product announcements from Amazon, including a new design for its Prime Air delivery drone, and new sortation system robots for its middle-mile network to improve accuracy in package sorting.

Jeff Wilke, the CEO of Worldwide Consumer for Amazon, announced its latest Prime Air delivery drone, a fully electric, hybrid designed system that can fly both horizontally and vertically. With a design that places the package inside the body of the drone, Wilke said it can fly up to 15 miles and deliver packages in under 30 minutes up to 5 pounds, which represents between 75% to 90% of the products that Amazon generally delivers.

Jeff Wilke Keynote Still 3 re:mars Day 2

Jeff Wilke, CEO of Worldwide Consumer at Amazon, discusses the new design for its Prime Air drone. Image: Amazon

“We aren’t saying that three quarters of our shipments will be delivered by a drone, but the opportunity is tremendous,” said Wilke. “Over the last decade, we’ve invested more than $33 billion in the U.S., building our world-class fulfillment and delivery network. By year’s end, the network will include 200,000 fulfillment robots, 50 cargo planes, 19,000 trailers, and 30,000 delivery vans. These assets helped us to ship within 1 billion items to Prime members last holiday season. We’ll soon add Prime Air drones to this list, plugging into an infrastructure that can help us scale both quickly and efficiently.”

The company did not announce a location or timeframe for when the commercial delivery by drone service would begin, adding that they are working with regulatory agencies in the U.S. for flight approvals, which would assume beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) waivers.

Wilke said the company is focusing on three component areas with its drone – an automated drone management system to ensure safe distances between its drones and other aircraft; a robust design with sophisticated controls “that are just as robust and stable as commercial aircraft”; and an “independently safe” sense-and-avoid system that allows the aircraft to be safe on its own.

“If the environment changes and the drone’s mission commands it to come in contact with an object that wasn’t there previously, it will refuse to do so,” said Wilke. “Building to this level of safety isn’t an easy task, of course, but from the start, the choice was clear for us. In order for this to make a difference at Amazon scale, a safe, truly autonomous drone was the only option for us.”

Improving sortation accuracy

On the robotics front, Brad Porter, a vice president at Amazon Robotics, announced the company’s new Pegasus Drive Sortation solution, which uses the core technology of its Amazon Robotics storage floors to transport individual packages to one of hundreds of destinations. The company said the new robots can reduce the number of incorrect sorts by 50% compared with its other sortation solutions. The robots will be used in Amazon’s Middle Mile Network, which connects more than 175 fulfillment centers with thousands of last-mile delivery nodes, the company said.


Brad Porter, vice president at Amazon Robotics, discusses the use of robotics at Amazon fulfillment centers. Image: Amazon.

“The core of effective middle-mile logistics is packaged sortation,” said Porter. “We sort billions of packages a year. The challenge of package sortation is how do you do it quickly and accurately? In a world of Prime One Day, accuracy is super important. If you dropped a package off a conveyor, lose tracking for a few hours, or worse, you mis-sort it to the wrong destination [or] drop it and damage the package and the inventory to the side, [then] we can’t make that customer promise anymore.”

The company also showed off its new Xanthus design for its regular robots, which includes multiple application cases, including the ability to add a conveyor top that can be integrated into the Pegasus sortation system.

Porter also briefly discussed its recent acquisition of Canvas Technology, which gives its robots the ability to move outside of its robotic drive fields and “interact collaboratively with our associates to do a number of mobility tasks in our buildings,” Porter said.

Stay tuned to Robotics Business Review and all of our social channels (Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook) for continued updates during the show.