Earlier this year, the skies were looking gloomy for Amazon Prime Air’s drone program, which was marred by crashes and other mishaps. But in the months since, the e-commerce giant has launched commercial delivery services in Lockeford, California, and College Station, Texas — and now, a new drone.
Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) on Thursday gave customers a first look at a model called the MK30, which is slated to come into service in 2024. The new design is smaller, lighter and more durable than the company’s MK27-2 drone, which is the one making deliveries in Lockeford and College Station.
In addition to being more compact and lightweight than the MK27-2, the MK30 will have an increased range and greater tolerance to extreme heat and cold. Notably, it also has the ability to fly in rain, something the company’s previous model was unable to do.
The MK30 will maintain Amazon’s familiar hexagonal shape, but new custom-designed propellers will reduce perceived noise by 25%. It will also feature the MK27-2’s sense-and-avoid system, which helps the drone navigate around people, pets and other obstacles.
“The MK30’s increased range, expanded temperature tolerance, safety-critical features, and new capability to fly in light rain will enable customers to choose drone delivery more often,” the company wrote in a blog post.
Amazon did not provide specifics on just how far the new model will fly, how much it will be able to carry or how temperature-resistant it will be. For comparison, though, the MK27-2 has a maximum payload of about 5 pounds and can travel at a top speed of around 50 mph. It currently flies within a 3-mile radius of Amazon’s facilities in California and Texas.
All of that information should be made available once the MK30 is evaluated by the Federal Aviation Administration.
“While it’s impossible to eliminate all risks from flying, we have taken a proven aerospace approach to design safety into our system. As always, our newest drone will go through rigorous evaluation by national aerospace authorities like the Federal Aviation Administration to prove its safety and reliability,” Amazon wrote.
In the past, the testing phase has been the main factor blocking Amazon’s flight path. A number of crashes, including a fiery impact in Oregon that sparked a brush fire in March, have hindered the drone program’s development — even as recently as July.
The FAA will be well aware of these incidents, and Amazon will need to work around the agency’s scrutiny in order to get its new model off the ground, so to speak.
David Carbon, vice president of Amazon Prime Air, said this week that the company is eyeing “a demonstrated, targeted level of safety that is validated by regulators and a magnitude safer than driving to the store.”
Carbon also set the ambitious goal of delivering 500 million packages by drone annually by the end of the decade. For context, rival Wing, which is owned by Alphabet, operates a more robust commercial service with operations in the U.S., Finland and Australia — yet it just hit the 250,000 delivery milestone after over a year of service.
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Wing has also come out with new drone prototypes in recent months, unveiling several models in July. And this week, the company announced a partnership with DoorDash that will allow customers to order drone delivery directly through the DoorDash app.
As it stands, Amazon Prime Air is still riding on Wing’s contrails. But the company has been steadily ramping up operations — and leaving its checkered past on the runway.