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The Federal Aviation Administration announced new rules Monday for what it calls “unmanned aircraft” that weigh more than 0.55 pound (or 0.25 kilogram) to operate around people. Those operating at night will also need to have anti-collision lights, and drones must have no “exposed rotating parts” (like the flight blades) that could cut human skin.
“The new rules make way for the further integration of drones into our airspace by addressing safety and security concerns,” said FAA Administrator Steve Dickson, in a statement. The rules announced Monday is the latest in a series of steps to solidify regulations around drone deliveries and flights around the US.
“The framework is a critical step in allowing more complex UAS operations, with a focus on safety and security,” UPS said in a statement, referring to unmanned aircraft systems. It'll be more than two years before the new rules go into effect, but civilian drones offered for sale in the US must be equipped with ID broadcast technology in 18 months, according to the FAA release.
The drone has six degrees of freedom (compared to four for a normal quadcopter), which Amazon says allows for more dynamic and nimble flight. The company accompanied the announcement of the new drone with a test flight video, showing how the craft transforms in midair.
Amazon claims its goal for the finished Prime Air service is created “fully electric drones that can fly up to 15 miles and deliver packages under five pounds to customers in less than 30 minutes.” This may sound like a small payload, but Amazon says 75 to 90 percent of purchased items are under that weight limit. Wilde told the audience at Re:MARS: “You’re going to see it delivering packages to customers in a matter of months.” But the company has not yet selected a location for this early service.
“Our objective is to have a certified commercial program that will allow us to deliver to customers, and that’s what we’re working towards in the coming months,” Wilde told reporters a press briefing. It’s worth remembering that Amazon doesn’t have a great track record when it comes to meeting its deadlines in this area.
Google’s rival Project Wing, meanwhile, has slowly been expanding a number of test services in locations including Finland and Australia. If we’ve learned one thing about drone delivery in recent years, it’s that the implementation of these systems is much harder than simply building the aircraft.
For the first time, Amazon today showed off its newest fully electric delivery drone at its first re:Mars conference in Las Vegas. It’s an ingenious hexagonal hybrid design, though, that has very few moving parts and uses the shroud that protects its blades as its wings when it transitions from vertical, helicopter-like flight at takeoff to its airplane-like mode.
These drones, Amazon says, will start making deliveries in the coming months, though it’s not yet clear where exactly that will happen. Today’s announcement marks the first time Amazon is publicly talking about those visual, thermal and ultrasonic sensors, which it designed in-house, and how the drone’s autonomous flight systems maneuver it to its landing spot.
Even when it’s not connected to a network and it encounters a new situation, it’ll be able to react appropriately and safely. When you see it fly in airplane mode, it looks a little like a TIE fighter, where the core holds all the sensors and navigation technology, as well as the package.
Ahead of today’s announcement, I sat down with Our Kimchi, Amazon ’s VP for its Prime Air program, to talk about the progress the company has made in recent years and what makes this new drone special. “Our sense and avoid technology is what makes the drone independently safe,” he told me.
Kimchi also stressed that Amazon designed virtually all the drone’s software and hardware stack in-house. “We control the aircraft technologies from the raw materials to the hardware, to software, to the structures, to the factory to the supply chain and eventually to the delivery,” he said.
As the drone makes its way to the delivery location or back to the warehouse, all the sensors and algorithms always have to be in agreement. What Kimchi stressed throughout our conversation is that Amazon ’s approach goes beyond redundancy, which is a pretty obvious concept in aviation and involves having multiple instances of the same hardware on board.
Amazon isn’t quite ready to delve into all the details of what the actual on-board hardware looks like, though. It’s the integration of all of those sensors, AI smarts and the actual design of the drone that makes the whole unit work.
The drone can easily handle a rotor that stops working, which is pretty standard these days. Here, too, Kimchi wasn’t quite ready to give away the secret sauce the team uses to make that work.
And the team obviously tested the drones in the real world to validate its models. Amazon started drone deliveries in England a while back, so that’s an obvious choice, but there’s no reason the company could opt for another country as well.
Either way, what once looked like a bit of a Black Friday stunt may just land in your backyard sooner than you think. Delivery speed has grown into a significant factor in purchasing decisions for consumers buying online.
The need for speed discussion typically revolves around trains, trucks, boats, and planes. While not the largest company entering the drone race, UPS gets the top spot on the list as the company's drone delivery program was first to receive Part 135 Standard certification with the more important Part 107 waiver from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in October of this year.
The two collectively serve as significant regulatory barriers to entry into the drone delivery market, open up the ability for unlimited scaling, and release governmental control over the types of flights a company can operate. Amazon is limited to a single-pilot license and unable to fly outside the line of sight of the pilot or an observer.
UPS, though, received the highest variant of the Part 135 certification with no cap on the number of pilots or level of expansion to which it can grow its drone airline. In the company's most recent earnings call, it announced that, to date, 1,500 commercial flights have already been conducted.
UPS has forged partnerships with the University of Utah, CVS, and Amerisource Bergen to look for new and innovative ways to profit from the technology. While deliveries are currently only being utilized for healthcare needs, the company does have plans to expand its reach to transporting special commodities and other regulated goods.
Once its drone technology is up to par, Wing will work closely with the FAA to gain the highest level of certification. With over 70,000 test flights and 3,000 successful deliveries down under, the company received approval from the Civil Aviation Safety Authority to being limited commercial operations.
Currently, the company is delivering a fixed list of items from 16 different merchants in the town of Canberra and the closely surrounding areas. Flash back to an episode of 60 Minutes in December 2013, and you'll hear Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos unveil his plan for drone delivery with an expected integration date of four or five years later.
As the world waits to see which of these companies can dominate the airspace heading into 2020, there are three things investors or those looking to invest should be monitoring: Amazon .com Inc. (NASDAQ: AMZN) will use drones to deliver packages to people’s homes and businesses.
The huge flying machine is for agricultural use, primarily to spray crops. The Chianti 6 axis 15 Liter Agriculture UAVs 15 kg Drone GPS with Autonomous Flight Romance Crop Sprayer costs $19,728.39.
The video feed from the drone allows farmers to survey hundreds of square acres of crops and livestock. This saves days, and perhaps weeks, of inspection via tractor or on foot.
This drone can carry insecticide that can be dropped via the operator’s controls. To cover a large area accurately, agricultural drones fly fixed grids so no portion of their survey can be missed.
When Amazon announced last week that it would start delivering products by small drones within 30 minutes of you purchasing them and this would be happening in the next few years, voices around the web reacted quickly. It's safe to say that there will be bumps in the road when Amazon does roll this out, and it may not be exactly when they say, but it also has some potential upsides if they can make it work.
There is a company in Australia all set to start drone delivery of textbooks next year, with plans to expand to the US by 2015. A single, battery-powered drone traveling to bring your order versus a large emissions-spewing delivery truck is a vast improvement when it comes to emissions and energy efficiency.
The drone will use GPS to find your house and will almost definitely have a camera in order to safely land and navigate its surroundings, so while it's very unlikely that Amazon will use that information to collect data on you for the government, or whatever the worry may be, the company will have to some privacy protections in place. The biggest hurdle for Amazon may be the logistics of using the drones to deliver to so many types of addresses including homes, apartment buildings and commercial properties that each have their own problems to solve for a successful delivery, all while using a fairly vulnerable technology.
While there has been lots of annoying chatter about shooting them down, I don't think that will be the biggest issue, but without a human presence, theft and other property damage could be problem. One downside that may interest TreeHuggers is that predatory birds seem to like attacking these small types of drones.
As the Atlantic reports, to us, it looks like a delivery drone, but to raptors, it looks like some other large bird moving into their airspace. Of course, birds already collide with aircraft causing billions in dollars of damage every year, which brings us to the next roadblock.
The FAA won't have new rules in place concerning small drones until 2015, meaning right now it's illegal for Amazon or any other business to use them commercially (hobbyists are excluded from this).