Amazon envisions drone-filled skies

drone

Amazon.com

Source: Amazon envisions drone-filled skies, clarionledger.com

PDF: amazondrones

Amazon.com Founder Jeff Bezos has never been one to avoid dreaming big, and it’s paid off.

For the past 23 years, we’ve watched Bezos’ dream grow from one man’s dream to sell books over the internet into a global economic powerhouse worth more than $356 billion. But in the last couple of years, the company has been developing plans to (yet again) turn the package-delivery business on its head. Amazon believes the future is in the skies and is developing serious plans to launch an armada of drones that would drop off packages by parachute.

It may sound far-fetched, and for the moment, it is. The current regulatory framework in the U.S. places limits on the use of unmanned aircraft. But that hasn’t stopped Amazon from developing its plans. Recently, Amazon unveiled portions of its proposed PrimeAir service, which would theoretically bypass the need for trucks, trains, planes and other conventional transportation infrastructure to deliver packages to their destinations in minutes, rather than days. Amazon has already established a national network of regional warehouses, which could serve as origination points for their respective areas.

“It looks like science fiction, but it’s real,” the company claims on its website. “One day, seeing Prime Air vehicles will be as normal as seeing mail trucks on the road.” The plan is fairly straightforward: unmanned aerial drones could swoop down to collect packages up to 5 pounds and deliver them in “30 minutes or less.” That’s a claim that would seem audacious, but Amazon has demonstrated a 13-minute delivery cycle in the United Kingdom, in which it delivered a package to a farmhouse in the English countryside, gently setting the box down in a field to the delight of the waiting customer.
Of course, delivering a package in the countryside is a lot different from doing it in a city, with its maze of structures, crowded airspace and security concerns.
As with any ambitious project, the devil’s in the details, but Amazon has been working them out. In a Valentine’s Day patent filing, Amazon outlined its plans to drop packages by parachute, and to control their descent with a variety of methods, avoiding the problems inherent in landing and taking off again. For example, actuators could push a package in a specific direction, accounting for variables such as wind and obstacles, and control surfaces on the package could help guide it to a specific destination.

If Amazon could pull it off, it would be a genius strategy. Imagine being able to bypass traffic to get your package delivered within minutes, via a low-cost drone. The vision is still just that; it’s not likely Federal Aviation Administration rules regarding unmanned aircraft will change anytime soon; having the skies full of package-delivery drones from a multitude of companies will present its own challenges. Aviation laws and regulations have to catch up.

Still, Amazon is planning for the future. And though numerous technical hurdles loom ahead, Amazon has proven doubters wrong many times before.

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