You know it’s nearly Christmas when Amazon release a video about drone delivery.
One of the world’s leading online retailers has made its first commercial delivery with an autonomous drone.
Amazon last week completed a flight in rural England, delivering an electronic device and a packet of chips to a local Cambridge man within 13 minutes of the customer placing the order online.
Taking-off from a small warehouse near the customer’s residence, the drone was packed with 2.2 kg (5 lbs) of goods before being sent down a conveyer belt where the autonomous flight mode was activated.
Amazon claims its new Prime Air ‘rapid parcel delivery’ will not only greatly reduce delivery time, but will also increase ‘the overall safety and efficiency of the transportation system.’
‘It looks like science fiction, but it’s real,’ says Amazon. ‘One day, seeing Prime Air vehicles will be as normal as seeing mail trucks on the road.’
There are safety advantages in taking fleets of vehicles off the roads but issues such as the safe integration of swarms of autonomous drones into existing airspace remain to be dealt with. Amazon is proposing a fundamental shift in airspace management to accommodate future growth of autonomous deliveries.
‘In the United States there are approximately 85,000 commercial, cargo, military and general aviation flights every day,’ says Amazon. ‘This number is likely to be dwarfed by low-altitude small unmanned aerial system (sUAS) operations in the next 10 years.
‘A paradigm shift in airspace management and operations is necessary to safely accommodate the one-operator-to-many-vehicle model required by large-scale commercial fleets,’ says Amazon.
In its proposal, Amazon argues airspace should be segregated, with airspace below 400 ft spilt into two categories, with the 200–400 ft portion designated as ‘High-Speed Transit’ lane where delivery drones can fly unimpeded. There would be a 100 ft no-fly zone between the high speed transit airspace and the lower edge of manned airspace at 500 ft.
Amazon said it would continue to work with aviation safety regulators to further develop this concept.
Amazon already has a close working relationship, of sorts, with the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) in the UK and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in the US, with both regulators taking legal action against the retailer for multiple dangerous goods safety breaches.
‘Amazon has a history of violating the Hazardous Materials Regulations,’ says the FAA, which proposed a US$350,000 penalty against the company after it illegally shipped corrosive drain cleaner. ‘From February 2013 to September 2015 alone, Amazon was found to have violated the Hazardous Materials Regulations 24 other times.’
Amazon.co.uk also faced 11 charges relating to the miscarriage of dangerous goods, with the CAA alleging the retailer sent spare batteries, flammable aerosols, and car screen wash as undeclared dangerous goods on passenger aircraft.
You can read more about Amazon Prime Air on the retailer’s website.