Amazon released a large marketing blitz of its Prime Air service the day before America's Cyber Monday shopping day. The idea of an unmanned drone shipping our media purchases seems like the far future but the Amazon website assures us "it looks like science fiction, but it's real."
When announcing the service Amazon estimated that the drones could be making deliveries as early as 2015. The major barrier to this breakthrough is government regulations. Currently the FAA is developing rules and regulations for what they term Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS).
The FAA sent out a press release on December 30, 2013 disclosing the six unmanned aircraft test site operators. The State of Nevada and North Dakota Department of Commerce sites are the two test centers closest to Amazon's Seattle home office. The Comprehensive Plan for UAS is a twenty eight page monster full of plans, dates, definitions, acronyms and references to other documents.
Civil flights over unpopulated areas are planned to be allowed as early as 2015, in line with Amazon's plans. Unfortunately the thirty minute delivery service feels like a plan best used in highly populated cities, not unpopulated areas.
There is very little information available about Amazon's octocopters. Even the origin of the copters, whether they were developed deep in Amazon labs or acquired through corporate buyout of another robotics company, is unclear. My brain automatically wants to know the type and quantity of motors along with the power source for these copters.
The big idea we should be getting from this endeavor is that Jeff Bezos wants to deliver product by drone. This fact on its own should be a huge driving force for the development of drone technology over the next ten years. The promotional video shows smooth flying copters with a large housing covering what I assume are motors, batteries and wires.
The opportunity here for innovation is huge - technology needs to be developed and refined for the media payloads, connections to the octocopters, landing gear, gps units and motors. First successful commercial tests might be done in Amazon orange but it's exciting to think that the rest of the world will be close behind.
This is one of a series of recent entries about Google and Amazon’s different approaches to advanced robotics. Here are a few more articles you might want to read:
• Google's BigDog robot climbs and balances
• Amazon Prime Air - A Moonshot Project
• Google's SCHAFT robot wins DARPA Robotics Challenge Trials 2013
• Amazon's Robotic Order Fulfillment