Amazon’s new drone may be just months away from dropping packages at your door

Very whizzy.
Very whizzy.
Image: JORDAN STEAD/Amazon
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Whose heart has not sunk at when Amazon estimates delivering your package in a week, or even a couple of days?

If you’re an Amazon Prime customer, you may have grown habituated to two-day shipping. If you live in a large city, you may even expect your goods within a day, or less. Shoppers want what they want, and they want it now. That’s why, as Amazon’s consumer products CEO Jeff Wilke explained to an audience at Amazon’s Re:Mars conference today (June 5), the company has been exploring options for even quicker delivery.

As Wilke wrote in a press release, “there may be times when one-day delivery may not be the right choice. Can we deliver packages to customers even faster? We think the answer is yes.” In other words: Enter the drones.

Amazon Prime Air’s new drone doesn’t yet have a name. It does, however, have a (rough) launch date of just a few months away. It’s futuristic—and actually kind of pretty.

But whether this new drone design will scale to an entire flock of the drones is still unclear. Amazon’s founder Jeff Bezos first announced the company was working on autonomous drone deliveries back in 2013, and the company has released myriad designs and videos over the years, and even launching a pilot program in the UK in 2016 to test out delivering products to real customers in the Cambridge countryside.

Things are apparently different now. As Wilke explained, “with the help of our world-class fulfillment and delivery network, we expect to scale Prime Air both quickly and efficiently, delivering packages via drone to customers within months.” Each drone can fly up to 15 miles and deliver packages under five pounds to customers in less than 30 minutes. Amazon has not yet said where the drones will be deployed.

The new drone is a “hybrid design,” he said, capable of helicopter-like “vertical takeoffs and landings,” with the aerodynamics of an airplane. “It also easily transitions between these two modes–from vertical-mode to airplane mode, and back to vertical mode.” Unlike most other drones, which have four degrees of freedom, it has six. “This makes it more stable, and capable of operating safely in more gusty wind conditions.” AI technology helps it to monitor, and respond, to a changing environment, including moving away from any unexpected flying objects, or avoiding wires as it lands or takes off from a customer’s yard, Wilke said.

Stay tuned for a whole lot of very, very confused birds.