Las Vegas, NV — One way Amazon is pursuing its goal of delivering packages to customers even faster is by pioneering autonomous drone technology.
Recently at Amazon’s re:MARS Conference (Machine Learning, Automation, Robotics and Space) in Las Vegas, the company unveiled our latest Prime Air drone design.
“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 fulfillment and delivery network, we expect to scale Prime Air both quickly and efficiently, delivering packages via drone to customers within months,” said Jeff Wilke, CEO of Amazon Worldwide Consumer.
(JORDAN STEAD / Amazon)
The newest drone design includes advances in efficiency, stability and, most importantly, in safety. It’s also a hybrid design. According to Amazon, it can do vertical takeoffs and landings – like a helicopter. And it’s efficient and aerodynamic – like an airplane. It also easily transitions between these two modes – from vertical-mode to airplane mode, and back to vertical mode.
The distinctive aircraft is controlled with six degrees of freedom, as opposed to the standard four. This makes it more stable, and capable of operating safely in more gusty wind conditions.
“We know customers will only feel comfortable receiving drone deliveries if they know the system is incredibly safe. So we’re building a drone that isn’t just safe, but independently safe, using the latest artificial intelligence (AI) technologies,” said Wilke.
“What does that mean? Here’s one way to think about it: 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.”
Amazon’s Jeff Wilke shows off the new drone onstage at re:MARS. (JORDAN STEAD / Amazon)
Wilke explained using examples of two of the drone’s main delivery stages: In transit to a destination, and when approaching the ground.
In transit: “Our drones need to be able to identify static and moving objects coming from any direction. We employ diverse sensors and advanced algorithms, such as multi-view stereo vision, to detect static objects like a chimney. To detect moving objects, like a paraglider or helicopter, we use proprietary computer-vision and machine learning algorithms.”
Approaching the ground: “For the drone to descend for delivery, we need a small area around the delivery location that is clear of people, animals, or obstacles. We determine this using explainable stereo vision in parallel with sophisticated AI algorithms trained to detect people and animals from above.
“A customer’s yard may have clotheslines, telephone wires, or electrical wires. Wire detection is one of the hardest challenges for low-altitude flights. Through the use of computer-vision techniques we’ve invented, our drones can recognize and avoid wires as they descend into, and ascend out of, a customer’s yard.”