Amazon.com, Inc. (NASDAQ:AMZN) on Wednesday unveiled a “hybrid” design for its autonomous delivery drones that the company said will enable the machine to more easily transition between a helicopter-like vertical mode for take-off, to an airplane mode while in transit, and then back to the vertical mode for landing.
Introduced at Amazon’s “MARS” (Machine Learning, Automation, Robotics and Space) conference in Las Vegas, the company touted the new design as an efficiency advancement in its plan to fly 15 miles to deliver packages weighing up to five pounds within 30 minutes.
The aircraft is controlled with what Amazon refers to as “six degrees of freedom” rather than the standard “four degrees.” This adds stability and allows the drone to safely operate in gusty wind conditions, the company said.
The new design will also allow the machines to react “independently” to unexpected flight impediments, rather than relying, as some drones do, on communications systems to achieve “situational awareness,” Amazon said. “If our drone’s flight environment changes, or the drone‘s mission commands it to come into contact with an object that wasn’t there previously, it will refuse to do so—it is independently safe,” said Jeff Wilke, CEO of Amazon’s Worldwide Consumer unit, in a blog post Wednesday.
As an example, Wilke cited a customer’s yard that may have clothes lines, telephone and electrical wires. “Wire detection is one of the hardest challenges for low-altitude flights,” he said. “Through the use of computer-vision techniques we’ve invented, our drones can recognize and avoid wires as they descend into, and ascend out of, a customer’s yard.”
In a related development, Amazon said it launched its one-day shipping service for its “Prime” members with about 10 million items eligible for the service.