Amazon Prime Air drone package delivery project updates

Amazon announced that they made their first commercial package delivery to a customer using a drone on December 7, 2016, in the U.K.   The package arrived at a destination in Cambridge, 13 minutes after it was ordered.  The package was delivered via a quadcopter drone flying at up to 400 ft (122 m), that can take off and fly completely autonomously, guided by GPS to their destination and is capable of carrying items weighing up to 2.7kg (5lbs).  Amazon returned to the traditional multicopter design, from the hybrid multicopter-plane design used for the 2015 prototype.

Drone design for December 2016 delivery
Amazon package delivery drone dec 2016
Image: Amazon

We first heard from Amazon a few years ago when they announced their drone delivery plans with a video they published in November 2013 on YouTube.  The drone prototype was a traditional multicopter design.  Then in 2015 they provided an updated prototype that was a hybrid design that combines the horizontal quad (four) rotors with an additional vertical back rotor configuration … to fly more like a faster airplane once vertical height has been reached.  The new prototype also had more protection around the rotors.  That said, according to Amazon’s website, they had more than a dozen prototypes testing many different vehicle designs and delivery mechanisms to discover how best to deliver packages in a variety of environments.

Prototype design introduced in 2015
Amazon Prime Air prototype
Image Credit: Amazon

According to Amazon’s PR page for Prime Air (Dec 2015), Amazon Prime Air is a future service that will deliver packages up to five pounds in 30 minutes or less using small drones. Flying under 400 feet and weighing less than 55 pounds, Prime Air vehicles will take advantage of sophisticated “sense and avoid” technology, as well as a high degree of automation, to safely operate beyond the line of sight to distances of 10 miles or more.

Prototype design introduced in 2013
Amazon drone delivery prototype
Image Credit: Amazon

One of many projects worldwide

Amazon is not the only company working on package delivery via drone. They are now part of a growing international list of companies with development and testing projects for drone parcel delivery.

In the U.S., Walmart applied to the FAA for testing drones for home delivery, curbside pickup, and checking of warehouse inventory.   It was reported that Walmart plans to use drones manufactured by China’s SZ DJI Technology Co Ltd. in their test …  the Phantom 3 and S900.

Google also did some test flights in Australia in 2014 as part of their Project Wing project which is developing a delivery system that uses self-flying vehicles.  They delivered a first aid kit, candy bars, dog treats, and water to a couple of Australian farmers.  In Nov 2015 BBC and others reported that Project Wing plans to be delivering goods to consumers using the robot aircraft sometime in 2017.

In China, the logistics company SF Express is testing drone delivery , while Alibaba Group’s Taobao Marketplace shopping website partnered with China logistics company YTO Express in a one-off trial of drone technology to deliver ginger tea packets.

In Australia, the commercial drone startup Flirtey, first put their package delivery drones into action in March 2015 in a trial sponsored by Trade Me, the largest online marketplace in New Zealand, where they delivered medical supplies to Land Search and Rescue.

In Europe the Finnish company, Posti, completed a four day test of parcel delivery via a drone, while Swiss Post, Swiss WorldCargo and Matternet jointly tested the commercial use of logistics drones for small deliveries.