Amazon dreams of delivering a product to a customer within 30 minutes. How is this going to be achieved? With high speed automated drones, reveals Amazon. ‘Amazon Prime Air’ is the name of the automated delivery system currently in development that aims to make online shopping more efficient and more exciting.
15/08/2017: Amazon patents mobile distribution centres for drone deliveries
Amazon has unveiled a patent for “multi-purpose vehicles” comprising container boxes transported by truck, train or ships that are able to receive delivery drones or launch them to deliver goods to customers.
Instead of using stationary warehouses to stock frequently ordered items, Amazon could instead shift to using mobile warehouses and drone stations that can launch a delivery drone when they are near to the customer’s address.
However, Amazon would need to completely redesign the computing system to monitor and maintain the fleet, calculate correct launching points, and choose meeting points for the drones’ return.
The retail giant’s vision is part of a bigger one by Amazon to transform its whole distribution network. While other firms are considering outsourcing, Amazon is thinking outside the box.
The patent talks about “a maintenance engine that has many batteries, at least one robotic arm and at least one system for launching an aerial vehicle or retrieving the aerial vehicle within a compartment of the first intermodal maintenance vehicle…”
It adds that: “Intermodal containers are some of the most common vessels for transporting goods across the nation’s transportation networks today. Intermodal containers may be easily transferred between rail-based, marine or roadway transportation systems, and may be fixed in place on a transport vehicle.
It explained that in some situations, the containers could be packed while in transit or in storage. It listed a major advantage of using a mobile distribution centre as allowing easier movement between modes of transport. For example, between train and drone, or ship and truck.
“Today’s transportation networks feature a variety of multimodal transportation systems, including various land, sea and air transit systems, many of which were implemented in phases over time,” says the patent.
The e-commerce giant would also use the moving distribution centres as a place to fix any damaged drones and re-fill them as the trains speed across the country, deploying goods as they go.
29/06/2017: Amazon reveals its idea for a massive drone dock
Amazon has submitted a patent in to make it easier for people to receive packages in urban zone with a drone dock. In its patent application, Amazon explains its delivery centres are relegated to rural areas zones, where enough space is available to build a large warehouse.
The patent refers to a tower, which blends into the urban landscape. The drones would dock from the numerous ports located on it and robots would staff it alongside human employees to manage orders and the drones’ maintenance. The towers would also have a self-service area for clients to take their returns themselves and they would also accept ships if close to water.
Customers are becoming more accustomed to faster deliveries and services, where goods are delivered instantly. Fulfilment centres which exist in marginalised zones, are not always convenient.
Security-wise, Amazon will make sure non-Amazon drones aren’t able to access the towers, only allow authenticated vehicles in using a wireless communication system.
Previous ideas Amazon has had for its distribution centres include a floating system, where the warehouses would be situated 45,000 feet in the air, suspended from airships or other vehicles that could stay in a fixed position above the ground.
Although Amazon’s patent looks very promising, it doesn’t mean the development will ever become a reality, yet it certainly demonstrates how the online retailer is considering the combination of drones into its delivery procedure
23/05/2017: Amazon launches new R&D base in Paris
In order to accelerate the development of Amazon Prime Air, the company has announced it’s investing in a brand new R&D centre in the Parisian suburb of Clichy.
The company explained almost a dozen software engineers will use it as their base and their first mission is to create a traffic management system to ensure the drones are safe in the air.
Amazon’s vice president, Paul Misener said the group will form a key part to develop the most sophisticated and safest software traffic management system in the world, created specifically for autonomous drones.
The company revealed the management software’s in-house trafficking will work closely with current systems of air traffic control, which is a positive thing – no one wants to run the risk of bringing down an A380 by ordering John Grisham novels or ordering toilet paper online.
The development centre will run alongside other facilities in the US, Israel and Austria and follows news the company has just launched a machine learning hub in the UK, to join its testing lab in Cambridge.
Frederic Duval, Amazon’s country manager said the decision was made to set up the hub in France because the country is full of talent and its academic proficiency is globally recognised. He added that he believed that the unique French savoi-faire would definitely play a fundamental role as innovation on behalf of customers is continued.
13/03/2017: Amazon shows off Prime Air at SXSW
Amazon has given attendees at the SXSW conference a sneak peek into its Prime Air delivery drones, although it wasn’t unfortunately able to show them off in flight.
Two of the company’s drones were on display at the show – one older model and one of its brand spanking new quadcopters.
They took part in the company’s Resistance Radio immersive experience, with the older drone hidden behind a secret bookcase entrance, just like a speakeasy. Of course, a security guard was keeping an eye on anyone who entered the room to ensure they didn’t – you know – steal the most hyped drone in existence.
The company’s newer model, its hybrid drone, was on display just a few miles down the road. It’s much larger because it accommodates the company’s more advanced sense and avoid technology so it doesn’t crash into your house, power lines or trees as it makes its descent.
Amazon wasn’t allowed to show off its drones in the sky, because they haven’t been cleared by US authorities yet. Therefore, Amazon will continue to test them in the UK, where, it seems, anything goes.
Amazon plans to parachute goods from its delivery drones into your home, a patent filed by the company has revealed, meaning they won’t even need space to land in your garden.
The patent explains that landing a drone takes up valuable energy and time, so alternative methods of delivering goods to your front door include using a parachute while the unmanned aircraft hover above your home.
It will also make the drones safer, because they’re less likely to crash into objects, pets or people as they attempt to find a safe landing point.
Other ways of offloading packages Amazon suggested in its patent include using magnets or spring coils to launch the package (presumably without breaking whatever’s inside the box).
The drone would continually monitor the progress of the package, making sure it’s on course to land safely. This would come in particularly useful if it’s windy or if the package needs to navigate things like a balcony, power lines or a tree.
To counter these problems, it could either deploy a parachute, compressed air canister or landing flap to correct the route.
14/12/2016: Amazon Prime Air’s maiden voyage has been successful, with the company’s Prime Air drone delivering an Amazon Fire TV stick and popcorn to a local customer.
The company’s first automated drone delivery took place in Cambridge – just a stone’s throw from the company’s HQ. It took just 13 minutes for the customer to place an order and have the package turn up in their garden, Amazon said.
The retail giant is hoping it’ll be able to offer the 30-minute delivery service in the coming months, although it’s still waiting for clearance from UK authorities.
“Safety is our top priority,” Amazon said on its website. “We are currently permitted to operate during daylight hours when there are low winds and good visibility, but not in rain, snow or icy conditions.”
However, critics thinks it’s nothing more than a PR stunt for Amazon and it’ll never catch on as the de facto delivery service.
“Over the past few years, we’ve seen a proliferation in delivery options as retailers scramble to cater to changing shopping habits,” Natalie Berg, an analyst at Planet Retail told the BBC.
“Fulfilment has become a firm battleground in retail and the most successful retailers today are those who can deliver products to shoppers in the quickest, most convenient and economical way. Drone delivery is another string to Amazon’s bow, but it’s certainly not an industry game changer.”
05/12/2016: What is reportedly Amazon’s delivery drone has been spotted above the company’s testing site n Cambridgeshire.
Although no one really knows what one of the Amazon Prime Air vehicles looks like, the picture shows a flying object that looks like a rather large drone, hovering over a field in theUK county.
Although some news outlets report it’s the first time such a drone has been spotted, other sources believe they have previous been spotted in testing.
The drone was spotted above Amazon’s 500,000 sq ft warehouse in Peterborough. the company hopes its delivery vehicles will be able to fly for ten miles at altitudes of 400ft, carrying packages of up to 2.2kg.
The service aims to get packages to customers within 30 minutes, cutting the company’s current fastest Prime hourly delivery by half.
A photographer who spotted the drone flying over fields told The Sun: “Amazon is obviously ploughing tens of millions of dollars into the future of how to deliver parcels. They have basically hired a farmer’s field in Cambridge, taking it over and doing something there on the land.”
17/10/2016: Amazon has opened up its delivery drone HQ, allowing journalists in to see how its new delivery service will work.
The Cambridge News and students from the city were invited to the retail giant’s facility in Cambridge, which has developed the warehouse technology and the drones to deliver packages autonomously to peoples’ homes.
The tour revealed how the drones will work using GPS coordinates to find its destination. It will then fly to 400ft before identifying a marker as a landing point. It will then use a sense and avoid system to avoid any objects that may stand in between it and the ground, coming to a perfect halt outside the customer’s home.
The research centre also features a 3D printer that means replacement parts can be made in minutes, reducing the time any drones that need maintenance spend on the ground.
A big part of Amazon’s plans are to also give something back to the community, teaching STEM students more about robots and the opportunities of automation.
“We’re continuing to do more and more in Cambridgeshire,” Kish added. “It’s continuing to be an area of significance and importance for Amazon. We want to get the talent and want to encourage science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) with students here, it’s just so important we’re promoting that science.”
27/07/2016: Amazon will work with the UK government to test Amazon Prime Air delivery drones, it has been announced.
The online retailer said it needs the support of the government to ensure the delivery drones are safe and its experiment will set out to do exactly that. The UK’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has given Amazon permission to test the drones can operate safely beyond the line of sight, they can successfully avoid obstacles and flights are safe when one person operates multiple autonomous drones.
Amazon’s Prime Air delivery drones have been designed to carry cargo weighing 2.3kg or less and if the trials are successful, up to 90 per cent of Amazon’s customers could opt to get their parcels delivered via air rather than by road.
“We’re not going to launch until we can demonstrate safety, and that’s what this programme is going to do,” an Amazon spokesperson said.
Tim Johnson, CAA policy director, said the project is about ensuring Amazon’s proposed air deliveries do not adversely affect other airspace users, such as aeoroplanes or helicopters.
“We want to enable the innovation that arises from the development of drone technology by safely integrating drones into the overall aviation system,” Johnson said. “These tests by Amazon will help inform our policy and future approach.”
12/07/2016: The UK’s Amazon drone testing facility is set to start testing the company’s delivery drones in Cambridge.
The centre was revealed following a Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) over the south Cambridge area – where Amazon’s R&D centre is based. It said that unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) will be flying in the airspace between July 7 until October 5, suggesting the company is trying out its flying delivery system.
The notice said drones will be flown up to a height of 750 feet, within two mile radius of the zone.
Daniel Buchmueller, Amazon’s drone development operations in the UK said at the recent AWS Summit: “We have [drone] development centres right here in the UK. In the United States, in Austria, and in Israel.
“These are places where we have dedicated indoor facilities. But we also have outdoor testing facilities. In fact, our largest outdoor facility is right here in the UK.”
How will they work?
Patented ‘sense and avoid’ technology is built into the drones. They use a system with lasers that determine the drone’s distance from other objects and allow it to manoeuvre around them to avoid collisions.
The drones have the ability to fly both horizontally and to ascend and descend vertically like a helicopter. Using this vertical method of take-off, the horizontal movement would then kick in with the help of the rotary blade at the rear of the drone. Amazon would aim to fly these devices at a height of 200ft and at speeds up to 50mph.
There will be size and weight restrictions to the products that will be available for the Amazon Prime Now delivery service. However, it has been estimated that over 85% of products on the Amazon website will qualify. The buyer will also be required to live within ten miles of a participating warehouse.
Restrictions and Concerns
While the technology has proved possible, legal limitations make this dream a little out of reach. The Federal Aviation Administration in the United States prohibits drones from flying out of sight of their user, which means Amazon’s delivery service would only be accomplished if these restrictions were lifted to allow unmanned vehicles to roam designated airspace. There is also much safety testing required, including privacy concerns in consideration of how much data the drone will be collecting.
The first tests had to be made over the border in Canada due to the US airspace restrictions. However, the US has now allowed testing of prototypes within the country, bringing this vision one step closer to reality.
Closer to home, the Civil Aviation Authority in UK has been already open to the idea of drones being able to fly beyond sight of the pilot, making the introduction of delivery drones a very real possibility.