Your next delivery of deodorant could come via a quiet, futuristic-looking drone landing in your backyard.
For years, Amazon has promised it will soon use drones to deliver packages to customers. Now the online retailer claims the deliveries will begin in the next few months with a new drone it built that combines the behavior of a plane with that of a helicopter. It did not specify where the deliveries would take place, or how many drones are in the fleet.
The company unveiled its latest Prime Air electric delivery drone on Wednesday at its re:Mars artificial intelligence conference in Las Vegas. The drone has a central compartment for carrying goods and a hexagonal shrouding that acts as its wings, while also protecting (and shielding people from) a series of rotors.
Jeff Wilke, Amazon's CEO of worldwide consumer, said at the event that the drones will be able to deliver packages that weigh less than five pounds over distances of up to 15 miles in less than half an hour. It can move around in 3D space, which is more than a typical quadcopter, and it's designed to be quiet so people may not hear it coming.
"We're not saying all our shipments will be on drones, but the opportunity is tremendous," Wilke said.
Over the last several years, tech companies including Amazon, Google, small startups, and shipping giants such as UPS have increasingly considered drones for quickly moving everything from candy bars to medical supplies from one place to another. Amazon alone has designed more than two dozen drones since founder and CEO Jeff Bezos revealed the company's drone delivery aspirations in 2013. At the time, Bezos predicted these drop-offs would be likely in four to five years.
Drone deliveries in the United States have been limited as companies wait on regulations that will allow fully autonomous drones to fly without being directly monitored by a human. A North Dakota golf course has delivered food to players, and drone startup Flirtey has done 7-11 deliveries in Nevada.
In April, an Amazon competitor — Alphabet-owned Wing — became the first drone delivery company in the US to get Air Carrier Certification from the Federal Aviation Administration. This means Wing, which is already delivering espresso and food via drone in Australia, can start offering commercial drone delivery from businesses to people's homes.
Wilke said Amazon's latest drone uses visual, thermal, and ultrasonic sensors — as well as machine-learning algorithms — to figure out what nearby objects it may want to avoid. In the air, he said, the drone needs to be able to identify moving and static objects from any direction, whether it's a paraglider in the distance or a chimney on a house below.
He said that once the drone arrives at its destination, it will need a clear area on the ground in which to land. The drone won't descend if a human steps into the area it's planning to land in, he said, and it will also use computer-vision to spot wires so it doesn't accidentally intersect a power line.
Yet while Wilke said the new drone would be used to deliver packages to customers "in months," he didn't specify where these deliveries would occur. Thus far, Amazon has only announced that it tested drones in a small trial in the UK.
Amazon currently ships products to more than 185 countries.
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