At Amazon’s Re:MARS conference in Las Vegas the company unveiled the Amazon delivery drone that will be used for its much-touted Air Prime delivery system. Here’s what we know so far…
1: What the MK27 Amazon Delivery Drone Can Do…
The MK27 unmanned aircraft is electric and has a range of 15 miles.
It has a “carry weight” of five pounds or 2.3kg. (Over 75 percent of all Amazon delivers are under five pounds.) Its design lets it tilt its rotors forward so it can land and takeoff vertically, but Amazon says it retains an aerodynamic flight profile.
2: When is it in Action?
Amazon says “within months”, yet there are some regulatory hurdles to get over.
Last year Amazon had a licence to operate drones in New York rejected by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), who were concerned that autonomous airborne vehicles couldn’t be operated safety. This week they issued Amazon with permission to operate the MK27 in authorized flight areas for R&D and crew training purposes only.
It is unclear how Amazon expects commercial deliveries to start soon. In the EU, Amazon has been taking part in the Single European Sky ATM Research consortium, an exploratory project running till March 2020. Any resulting EU regulation recommendations will have to make their way through the legislative process.
3: It Comes with Sensors; Lots of Sensors…
The drone comes with visual, thermal and sonar cameras. The visual and thermal cameras work with computer vision algorithms to identify objects or people that are in the drone’s path. If the drone detects a person in the package drop-off zone it will automatically stop its descent. The computer vision software can spot airborne objects and even detect thin clothes lines.
When it comes to safety what Amazon wants is to build an autonomous drone that has predictable behaviour in every situation it encounters. In order to do this, Jeff Wilke, CEO of Amazon Worldwide Consumer said they have collected “Huge amounts of data and run millions of simulations to verify that any situation is covered.”
4: Air Traffic Management System
Amazon Prime Air has been working with NASA and the Single European Sky ATM Research to conduct trials of an air management system that will track each drone’s position and give aviation authorities such as the USA’s FAA the ability to create no fly zones in emergencies that will block drones from entering.
As part of the inbuilt safety features the drones will be restricted to 400 feet so they won’t encounter airplanes or helicopters.
The system will communicate over LTE mobile networks, while Amazon have also stated that it can operate over cloud-based connections.
5: The System Will (Arguably) Be Cost Effective and Green
In an earlier cost analysis of Amazon Prime Air, Adrienne Welch Sudbury and E. Bruce Hutchinson estimated that: “The drone cost per package delivered is one-third or less of the UPS delivery cost.”
However they note that additional cost will be incurred with drone delivery such as; creation of drone stations, technicians, maintenance, building utility costs and the potential purchase of air and/or radio frequency rights.
Amazon says its drones are one of ‘many’ parts in its sustainable initiatives to help the company achieve its carbon zero shipment goals. The company wants to have all shipments net zero by the year 2030. In a release the company commented: “When it comes to emissions and energy efficiency, an electric drone, charged using sustainable means, traveling to drop off a package is a vast improvement over a car on the road.”