Amazon unveils latest version of its Prime Air delivery drone, after it finally gains FAA approval
Amazon has unveiled the latest version of its Prime Air delivery drone, and has promised that deliveries with it will begin “within months.”
But Amazon has not confirmed where in the world these deliveries would take place, and on what scale they would be.
It should be remembered that Amazon has already been beaten to the punch by Alphabet (Google), after its Wing division claimed the launch of the world’s first commercial drone delivery service in Australia in early April.
Indeed, Wing’s drones in Australia saw it deliver takeaway food, coffee and medicines to about 100 homes in Canberra (Australia) after that country’s aviation authority granted it regulatory approval for the move.
Later in the same month Alphabet’s Wing division scored another important milestone after the aviation regulator in the United States (the Federal Aviation Administration or FAA) granted it permission to begin home deliveries in the US.
And now the FAA told the BBC it had granted Amazon a permit to operate its updated drone in the US.
This permission is only for a year, and Amazon will have to renew this permission.
“The FAA issued a Special Airworthiness Certificate to Amazon Prime Air allowing the company to operate its MK27 unmanned aircraft for research and development and crew training in authorised flight areas,” the regulator told the BBC.
“Amazon Prime Air plans to use the aircraft to establish a package delivery operation in the United States. This certificate is valid for one year and is eligible for renewal,” it said.
Essentially, under US rules Amazon had to get the FAA’s approval as an airline, if it wanted operate its drone deliveries in the United States.
This is because current FAA regulations prevent a drone from being flown outside of an operator’s line of sight. Licenses have been granted in the past for automated deliveries for demonstration purposes only, and not for commercial businesses.
These restrictions have led to frustration for drone companies in the past.
In 2015 for example Amazon began testing its “Prime Air” delivery drones in Canada’s British Columbia, after the e-commerce giant had previously criticised the US rules as an overly restrictive to the technology.
But now after getting the FAA approval, Amazon says it wants to launch a delivery service using the drone in “the coming months,” but has not said where this might take place or how many customers it might cover.
At Amazon’s Re:MARS conference in Las Vegas, Amazon’s consumer worldwide CEO Jeff Wilke introduced the new hybrid drone and highlighted its safety features, including its ability to detect obstacles such as people, dogs, and clotheslines via its depth cameras, thermal sensors and sonar.
The range of this new drone, that is capable of vertical takeoff and landing as well as sustained forward flight via its six rotors, is approximately 15 miles.
It can carry packages of up to 2.3 kilograms, which sounds small, but Amazon insists that 75 to 90 percent of purchased items are under that weight limit.
“You’re going to see it delivering packages to customers in a matter of months,” Wilke reportedly said, but he failed to detail at what scale the deliveries would be, and where the deliveries would take place.
A video of this new drone can be found here.
On this side of the pond, Amazon began testing its unmanned delivery drone service in Cambridge in July 2016.
A package was reportedly delivered, by drone, in just 13 minutes.
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