Amazon Reassures Us the Prime Air Drone Delivery System Is Still on the Table and Moving Forward

Do you know why those stupid little hurdles we get upset about because we’re so spoiled are called “first world problems?” It’s because here, in the first world, they actually are problems.
Amazon Prime Air Drone 1 photo
Photo: Amazon
And one of the most annoying of them all is having to wait for your package to be delivered right after you’ve waited long enough for payday or to save sufficient money to afford the purchase. You finally click “add to cart,” you go to check out, fill in the credit card details and you’re the happy owner of a new iPhone. Only you’re not.

Why can’t the products be delivered just as quickly as the money flies out of your account the moment you click on that virtual “buy” button? Well, for that to happen humanity would have to come up with teleportation, and apart from the scenario we get invaded by aliens, we’re not going to see that anytime soon.

What we are only a few years away from, however, is the Amazon Prime Air delivery system. In case you haven’t heard about it - or thought it to be just one big joke or a marketing stunt - the Prime Air is Amazon’s project that, provided everything goes to plan, will be able to make deliveries in under 30 minutes with the help of some specialized drones.

Amazon is investing a lot of time and energy in this feature that will undoubtedly revolutionize the idea of online shopping. Right now, the parcels the drones can deliver are limited to five pounds, but according to Paul Misener, Amazon’s vice president for global public policy, the vast majority of Amazon orders fit under this weight limit.

The company’s official has been interviewed by Yahoo Tech in an attempt to find out if this whole packets falling out of the sky thing is actually real and when it will happen. Turns out the main thing that’s holding them back is - you guessed it - official approvals.

Well, as easy as it is to hate the FAA, this one is a little more serious than your common hobby drone: Amazon makes thousands of deliveries every day, which would mean the sky will get really busy at times. But speaking to Yahoo Tech, Paul Misener revealed Amazon’s proposal: “We were thinking: Manned aircraft above 500 feet. Between 400 and 500 feet, there’d be a no-fly zone - a safety buffer. Between 200 and 400 feet would be a transit zone, where drones could fly fairly quickly, horizontally. And then below 200 feet, that would be limited to certain operations. For us, it would be takeoff and landing. For others, it might be aerial photography. The realtors, for example, wouldn’t need to fly above 200 feet to get a great shot of a house.

As complicated as the mandatory airspace regulation is, the drones themselves aren’t yet ready. As you’d imagine, Amazon can’t just go to the drone shop, place an order for a few thousands of them and await delivery. It needs to come up with a special drone prototype that would suit its needs. Again, Paul Misener: “[...]these are quite different than the drones that you can buy in a store and fly around. These are highly automated drones. They have what is called sense-and-avoid technology. That means, basically, seeing and then avoiding obstacles.

These drones are more like horses than cars - and let me explain why. If you have a small tree in your front yard, and you want to bang your car into it for some reason, you can do that. Your spouse might not be happy with you, but you can do it. But try riding a horse into the tree. It won’t do it. The horse will see the tree and go around it. Same way our drones will not run into trees, because they will know not to run into it.

Then, the Yahoo interviewer asks a question for which he has earned my unconditional respect: “Amazon ships millions and millions of packages a week. Won’t it be loud to have the sky filled with buzzing Amazon drones?” The answer isn’t entirely satisfactory: “Well, it’s not gonna be some science fiction, Hitchcock scenario; that’s a bit of an exaggeration. But if we design these correctly, they won’t be loud and obnoxious and noisy. It’s a really cool engineering challenge, it turns out. I mean, there are a bunch of challenges. But dampening the noise is one of them.

You can read the whole interview on Yahoo Tech, but I guess the final two paragraphs sum up the whole idea: “I can tell you, it is very real. We’ve beefed up a team at Amazon Prime Air that includes aeronautical engineers, roboticists, a former NASA astronaut. These folks are completely focused on making this a reality - and demonstrating that it is safe before we begin operations.”

“Challenges are there, for sure, but once we demonstrate that this is safe, we’ll be able to take it to the regulators and hopefully deploy it for our customers quickly. I’ve seen it. It’s gonna happen. It’s coming.

That almost sounds threatening.
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About the author: Vlad Mitrache
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"Boy meets car, boy loves car, boy gets journalism degree and starts job writing and editing at a car magazine" - 5/5. (Vlad Mitrache if he was a movie)
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