Amazon shows off hybrid drone prototype for Amazon Prime Air service

Former Top Gear host Jeremy Clarkson helped Amazon show off its new hybrid drone prototype to be used in Amazon's future Prime Air service.

Amazon drone delivery prime air video
Credit: Amazon

Amazon showed off its new prototype drone to be used in its future Prime Air service, which will deliver packages up to five pounds in the time it takes to get a pizza delivered, “in 30 minutes or less.”

Former Top Gear host Jeremy Clarkson said in the Amazon Prime Air video that eventually there will be a “whole family of Amazon drones, different designs for different environments.”

That won’t happen until Amazon has FAA approval, as the company explained in several of its FAQs.

“We will deploy when and where we have the regulatory support needed to safely realize our vision,” one FAQ reads.

“We will not launch Prime Air until we are able to demonstrate safe operations,”Amazon added.

The company believes, “airspace is safest when small drones are separated from most manned aircraft traffic, and where airspace access is determined by capabilities.”

Regarding those capabilities, the 55-pound hybrid delivery drone acts like a helicopter when it takes off by using eight propellers to rise vertically to about 400 feet. Then it uses just one propeller as it acts like a plane when flying, using “sense and avoid” tech to “safely operate beyond the line of sight to distances of 10 miles or more,” Amazon said. Clarkson said in the video the drone can fly up to 15 miles.

Once the package is close to its destination, the video shows the hybrid drone switching back over to helicopter “vertical mode” after it scans for a landing area free of hazards; then it lowers to the ground, drops off the package and heads back to Amazon.

Amazon Prime Air hybrid drone Amazon

Amazon’s newest unmanned delivery craft has evolved from the original drone the company showed off two years ago. Popular Science suggested, “Amazon Prime Air's change of design mirrors that of Google's Project X wing drone.”

Amazon first drone prototype for Prime Air delivery Amazon

“We are testing many different vehicle designs and delivery mechanisms to discover how best to deliver packages in a variety of environments,” wrote Amazon. “We have more than a dozen prototypes that we’ve developed in our research and development labs. The look and characteristics of the vehicles will evolve over time.”

Both Walmart and Google are planning on launching a drone delivery service.

Earlier this month, Google announced plans for its “Project Wing” drone delivery service to launch in 2017. The BBC reported that Alphabet, instead of Google X, may now be running Project Wing. Google provided no details given about the type of packages, delivery service, or type of drones to be used, but the BBC said, “Google's custom-designed drones can hover and winch packages down to the ground for delivery.”

In October, Walmart requested permission from the FAA to test drone flights. Reuters reported that Walmart wants to test drones for “home delivery, curbside pick-up and checking warehouse inventories.” The company wants to run tests in small residential neighborhoods after obtaining permission from residents living in the flight path.

“Drones have a lot of potential to further connect our vast network of stores, distribution centers, fulfillment centers and transportation fleet,” Wal-Mart spokesman Dan Toporek told Reuters. “There is a Walmart within five miles of 70% of the U.S. population, which creates some unique and interesting possibilities for serving customers with drones.”

The future of fast deliveries via small drones is both exciting and terrifying.

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