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  • Writer's pictureDaniel Bench

Amazon Prime Air

Amazon started out by revolutionizing online shopping, and it’s now innovating package delivery. In 2013, the company announced its plan to employ autonomous drones so that people can receive their orders in under 30 minutes. For this to be possible, the item ordered must be under five pounds, and the destination must be within 15 miles from the “drone hives.” Amazon has been placing these “drone hives” outside heavy populated areas to make deliveries easier.

On December 7, 2016, Prime Air made its first ever delivery in 13 minutes to the Cambridgeshire countryside in England. The customer, Richard, ordered an Amazon Fire Stick and a bag of popcorn. The only human actions involved Richard pressing 3 buttons on his tablet and an Amazon employee putting his items in a box.

At that time, Prime Air only had two customers, both in the Cambridgeshire countryside. In August 2019, the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) gave Amazon permission to operate its fleet of Prime Air delivery drones in the United States. The FAA has given Amazon strict guidelines: drones cannot fly higher than 400 feet (122 meter) and they cannot fly faster than 100 miles per hour (161 kilometers per hour).

Amazon has been working hard to continue improving and upgrading its drones. As of now, they are autonomous (they fly without human control), fully electric, environment friendly, and equipped with a shield that is designed to protect it from collisions and other hazards. They are also equipped with enhanced motion sensors to detect in-air and ground obstacles. In addition, the sensors are being tweaked so the drones can detect telephone wires, clothes lines, and other minuscule items in the air from a far distance.

This is Amazon Prime Air’s MK27 drone. It is a hybrid aircraft that has the ability to take off vertically.. The drone has many important advanced features, including thermal and heat cameras, depth cameras and other built-in computer mechanisms that allow the drone to avoid hazards in its way.

Amidst the exciting updates surrounding Prime Air, the COVID-19 crisis struck and disrupted progress. Prime Air laid off a lot of staff at the time, but Amazon still needed to find a way to keep working on Prime Air safely. Brad Porte, vice president of robotics at Amazon made a LinkedIn post about the precautions Amazon is taking: “We are working hard to develop and deploy additional processes and technology for a range of measures – from social distancing to contact tracing.” He continued to say that, “We are developing mobile ultraviolet sanitation. My Prime Air drones and robotics group has become an R&D lab for COVID innovation that I can’t wait to share with you. Today I reviewed a list of 72 new ideas for improvements we can make”(Boyle). As you can see, Amazon is pushing as hard as ever to scale the business and release to the public. In addition, Amazon is using some of their Prime Air labs to create plastic face shields and cloth for face masks.

What does a fleet of delivery drones mean for the future? There are benefits and disadvantages to a fully developed Prime Air. One major negative is that many people are going to lose jobs to drones. Eventually, the drones will be able to carry packages heavier than five pounds and Amazon won’t have as pressing a need for delivery drivers anymore. However, one advantage is that these fleets of drones will be better for the environment. There will be less carbon emissions compared to delivery trucks.

Another concern going forward is whether these drones are really safe. The drones could end up flying into a telephone wire and knocking it down, resulting in people losing power. Also, if drones crash they could land on people and their homes. Only time will tell if these questions or concerns will be answered and the great future of drone delivery will materialize.


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