The Seattle-based retailer has recently revealed a new prototype for its Amazon Prime Air drone delivery program, which the company said is able to fly distances of up to 15 miles and reach altitudes of 400 feet. The drone, which was featured in promotional footage on a company website, is designed to deliver packages within 30 minutes and looks like a hybrid of a helicopter and a fixed-wing airplane.
While it doesn’t have a name, the new drone will be one of many designs that may be employed by the e-commerce company as it looks to establish package delivery by unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). The prototype unveiled on Sunday represents only the second design Amazon has shown to the public after displaying an eight-propeller device when the company first announced the program in Dec. 2013.
In the two years since the programme’s very public announcement by CEO Jeff Bezos on CBS’ “60 Minutes,” Amazon Prime Air has gone from a pipe dream to a serious undertaking, as the company finds ways to streamline logistics and get packages to customers as quickly as possible. In July during a conference at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif., Amazon Prime Air head Gur Kimchi proposed a regulated UAV highway in the sky for delivery drones between altitudes of 200 to 400 feet.
Amazon’s newest drone looks tailor-made for that type of operation, with the ability to take off vertically using helicopter-like propellers. Once off the ground at a certain altitude, the drone can then initiate a propeller on its tail that powers it forward as it glides like an airplane. The flying robot weighs less than 55 pounds and will carry packages, like a pair of shoes, in a storage compartment on its underside.
“We are testing many different vehicle designs and delivery mechanisms to discover how best to deliver packages in a variety of environments,” read the company’s website. “We have more than a dozen prototypes that we’ve developed in our research and development labs.”
Those labs are located in the U.S., Israel and the United Kingdom, and testing is going on in various international locations, though the company did not say where exactly.
Amazon, which is now competing with the likes of Google and Walmart to launch viable drone programs, also stressed the need for safety and noted that its UAV was built with “multiple redundancies,” in case of specific part failures and “sense and avoid” technology.
“We will not launch Prime Air until we are able to demonstrate safe operations,” the company said.