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08/10/2022

Amazon reveals Prime Air drone details

Dan Berthiaume
Senior Editor, Technology
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Amazon employee tests drones
Amazon Prime Air tests drones at a facility in Oregon.

As it prepares to move beyond the pilot stage with drone-based delivery, Amazon is publicly discussing the technology and design features of its proprietary drones.

Amazon is building fully electric drones to deliver packages under five pounds to customers in less than 60 minutes. In a new corporate blog post, the e-tail titan discusses some of the specifics regarding the technology, safety measures, and regulatory certification underpinning its Amazon Prime Air drones.

There are three main drone components Amazon focuses on:

  1. The body: Prime Air drones are developed using the same aerospace standards that design safety into its system, and Amazon says the drones are just as reliable as the ground transportation methods that it currently uses for delivery. Amazon has logged thousands of flight hours and put its drones through testing and evaluation.
  2. The brain: The drones have an artificial intelligence (AI)-based sense-and-avoid system to ensure the aircraft is able to detect and stay away from obstacles in the air and on the ground, such as other aircraft and people and pets in backyards. With this system, Amazon says its drones can encounter new, unexpected situations and still make safe decisions, autonomously and safely. If the environment changes, and the drone‘s mission commands it to come into contact with an object that wasn’t there previously, it will refuse.
  3. The rules: Amazon is creating an automated drone-management system to plan its flight paths and ensure there are safe distances between its aircraft and other aircraft in the area, and that it is complying with all aviation regulations. Amazon received a Part 135 Air Carrier Certificate from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in 2020. This means the FAA has authorized the company to operate as an airline and deliver small packages via drone.

Amazon drone delivery prepares for takeoff
Amazon drone delivery is launching in at least two locations in 2022. The e-tail giant will offer customers in College Station, Texas – home of Texas A&M University – the opportunity to receive Prime Air drone deliveries. Drone deliveries will be fulfilled in less than one hour from the time a digital order is placed. 

The company also recently announced that customers in Lockeford, Calif., will be among the first to receive Prime Air drone deliveries in the U.S. Amazon will fulfill drone deliveries in less than one hour from the time an order is placed. For these deliveries, the drone will fly to the designated delivery location, descend to the customer’s backyard, and hover at a safe height. It will then safely release the package and rise back up to altitude.

The company says it has created more than two dozen Prime Air delivery drone prototypes, including a model publicly unveiled at its 2019 re:MARS conference (Machine Learning, Automation, Robotics and Space) in Las Vegas. The company’s first test drone delivery in the U.S. took place at its March 2017 re:MARS conference, preceded by its first U.K. delivery by drone in December near Cambridge, England in December 2016.

“While it’s impossible to eliminate all risks from flying, we’re taking an aerospace approach to create a system that will be safer than even road-based transportation,” Amazon said in the blog post. “This is just the beginning. We are constantly redefining, iterating, and experimenting to meaningfully transform the customer experience. We look forward to continuing to learn as we methodically expand this program to more customers in months and years to come.”