Amazon teased online shopaholics everywhere with a new video that details how its drone delivery service, Amazon Prime Air, could work if approved by federal regulators.
According to Amazon pitchman Jeremy Clarkson, Amazon’s delivery drones will weigh about 50 pounds, fly under 400 feet, and carry packages weighing up to five pounds. The drone in the video could fly up to 15 miles and deliver a package within 30 minutes.
Amazon said it already has more than a dozen delivery drone prototypes that would work in different environments. They’ll use “sense and avoid” technology, including vehicle-to-vehicle communication, GPS, and Wi-Fi, to detect hazards in flight as well as no-fly zones and other alerts.
The drones are designed to ascend vertically and fly horizontally. Once they reach their destination, the drones are able to scan for a clear landing spot and descend vertically to drop a package before moving back into the air. The drones will send you a message once your package has arrived.
Amazon was given permission to test delivery drones in the US earlier in 2015. It also has drone delivery development centers in the UK and Israel.
“It looks like science fiction, but it’s real. One day, seeing Prime Air vehicles will be as normal as seeing mail trucks on the road,” Amazon said in a statement.
Amazon Prime Air has come a long way, but there are many challenges that still need to be overcome. The biggest hurdle is getting the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to finalize the regulations that will govern the use of commercial drones. “We will deploy when and where we have the regulatory support needed to safely realize our vision,” Amazon said.
To help the FAA, Amazon proposed carving out airspace from 200ft-400ft exclusively for delivery drones, with a further 100ft above it declared a no-fly zone. Amazon created the following graphic to illustrate it idea:
“Given the rapidly growing small unmanned aircraft industry, Amazon believes the safest and most efficient environment for sUAS [small unmanned aircraft systems] operations – from basic recreational users to sophisticated BLOS fleets – is in segregated civil airspace1 below 500 feet,” Amazon said in its proposal. “Segregating the airspace will buffer sUAS operations from current aviation operations.”
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Another hurdle for Amazon Prime Air is increasing competition. Walmart and DJI will test drones for grocery pickup, a service Walmart recently expanded and plans to offer in 43 markets next year. The retailer will also test drone delivery for customers at Walmart facilities and in small residential neighborhoods. The test would see if a drone could be deployed from a truck “to safely deliver a package at a home and then return safely to the same.”
Google also is interested in drone delivery and has a working prototype with Project Wing, which was announced in August 2014. There have been a couple videos showing field tests with prototypes that share a similar four-propeller quadcopter design as popular consumer drones.
And Flirtey, an Australian drone manufacturer, recently partnered with NASA to deliver medical supplies to a Virginia airport from its base in Nevada. This was the first FAA-approved drone delivery in the United States.
Still, regular drone deliveries are a long way from becoming reality, Amazon says:
“We are testing many different vehicle designs and delivery mechanisms to discover how best to deliver packages in a variety of environments. We have more than a dozen prototypes that we’ve developed in our research and development labs. The look and characteristics of the vehicles will evolve over time.”