In news that made some wonder whether it was April the 1st, Amazon have unveiled their latest plans for a delivery drone service.
Prime Air will use “small unmanned aerial vehicles” to rapidly and efficiently deliver packages to customers within 30 minutes of order placement. Development centres in the US, UK and Israel are testing the designs and delivery mechanisms proposed by over a dozen drone prototypes.
Though Amazon do admit it is a delivery system for the future, it will be deployed when they have “the regulatory support needed to realise” it. Videos created by the company show drones flying and dropping off packages.
Sense-and-avoid technology will equip the drones with the ability to manoeuvre around obstacles. They will fly no higher than 400 feet in order to not interfere with manned aircrafts. Delivery would be speedy thanks to the rotar and blade system which would allow the aircrafts to reach speeds of up to 60mph. Current prototypes can carry parcels of up to 5 pounds (just over 2kg), so perfect for a new pair of New Balances but perhaps not for a bulk order of second-hand textbooks.
This isn’t the first we’ve heard of Prime Air. Back in 2013 the Amazon were hoping drones would be ready to deliver by this year. Back then the main issues raised were around privacy, considering drones were equipped with cameras, and safety of nearby pedestrians and aircraft.
It wont all be smooth flying, however. The Guardian, who have been privy to drone testing, reported that the FAA “continues to resist the idea that commercial drones like Amazon Prime Air should be allowed to operate beyond a pilot’s vision.” This won’t sit well with Amazon, which wants semi-autonomous operation. The UK’s Civil Aviation Authority are reportedly slightly more receptive to drones flying beyond sight of the operator.
Independent tech experts such as Charlie Custer for Tech In Asia are pointing out the up-front costs of manufacturing and powering the drones, creating delivery infrastructure, and training operators. Damage would also be a risk – not only from people hoping to re-create their Animal Crossing slingshot successes, but from the weather and accidental collision. Birds of prey have been shown to take a rather violent disliking to small unmanned aircraft.
Asda-owning retail giant Walmart has this autumn also applied for permission to begin testing delivery drones in America. DHL and Singapore post are among other firms investigating the use of drones as delivery vehicles.
“One day, seeing Prime Air vehicles will be as normal as seeing mail trucks on the road,” say Amazon. They may be right, but that day seems some way off. For the foreseeable future it looks like we’ll have to settle for the postman, Dominoes and Deliveroo.