How Amazon Is Preparing For Fully-Electric Drone Delivery

Amazon is building fully-electric drones that deliver packages under 5 pounds to customers in less than an hour - watch how they rigorously test every aspect of the technology they build, learn from it, and update the system to keep improving the safety, reliability, and scalability of their delivery service.

Amazon Drone Delivery

Amazon drone delivery will enable even faster deliveries to customers, with the potential to increase overall safety and efficiency in the transportation network.

When they first started Amazon Prime Two-Day Delivery 17 years ago, it was considered revolutionary. Getting packages to people where they wanted them - in a matter of days - was exciting and new.

Since then, they’ve developed new technologies and made investments in their logistics network that have helped them get packages to customers in two days, one day, and even on the same day. Now, another revolution is in the works, with Prime Air drones about to deliver to Amazon customers in under an hour, in a safe and scalable way.

It sounds like science fiction, but it’s happening. Amazon is building fully electric drones that deliver packages under 5 pounds to customers in less than 60 minutes.

But they know their customers will only feel comfortable receiving drone deliveries if they know the system is safe and reliable. While it’s impossible to eliminate all risks from flying, they’re taking a proven aerospace approach to design safety into their system.

So how does Amazon do it? There are three components they focus on:

  1. The body: A robust drone developed using the same aerospace standards that design safety into their system, and are just as reliable as the ground transportation methods that serve their customers today.
  2. The brain: A sense-and-avoid system to ensure the aircraft is able to detect and stay away from obstacles in the air and on the ground, such as other aircraft and people and pets in backyards. With this system, their drone can encounter new, unexpected situations and still make safe decisions - autonomously and safely.
  3. The rules: Amazon is creating an automated drone-management system to plan their flight paths and ensure there are safe distances between their aircraft and other aircraft in the area, and that they are complying with all aviation regulations.

For almost a decade, they’ve been innovating in each of these three areas, with a team of safety, aerospace, science, robotics, software, hardware, testing, and manufacturing experts working to ensure their system meets the rigors required for an aerospace product.

State of Drone Delivery Today

The logistics industry is abuzz with all things drones. But not all drone systems are equal. Some feature remotely piloted drones. Other drones are autonomous but blind, relying on ground-based communications systems for situational awareness, and not able to react to the unexpected.

Then there are systems like Amazon’s, which uses a sophisticated, industry-leading sense-and-avoid system to help our drones operate safely and autonomously. If the environment changes and the drone‘s mission commands it to come into contact with an object that wasn’t there previously, it will refuse. Designing and building a system like this was not an easy task for Amazon. But from the start, the choice was clear. In order for this to make a difference at Amazon’s scale, a safe, truly autonomous drone was the only option.

Amazon's Approach to Safety

Any car you drive is tested - that's how you know it’s safe. Amazon is developing its drones in the same way. Just as aircraft manufacturers test their new planes, or automakers test their new vehicles to failure before they go on sale, Amazon tests its drones in private and controlled facilities.

Amazon rigorously tests every aspect of the technology they build, learns from it, and updates the system - that’s how they make advances in safety and autonomy. Each design has taught Amazon something important and helped them improve the safety, reliability, and scalability of our service.

Related: Meet Heidi Schubert, who creates drone traffic management software for Prime Air

Amazon's team has logged thousands of flight hours and put their drones through rigorous testing and evaluation. They safely test the limits of their drones in this controlled area in accordance with regulatory requirements to make sure the vehicle they use for delivery is a safe one.

Nearly a decade of building, testing, and iterating has taught Amazon valuable lessons. In fact, just through the last two years of testing, they have made over 188 updates to their system that have improved aspects like noise and equipment ergonomics.

It’s why they now have some of the world’s most sophisticated hardware, software, and autonomy capability when it comes to drone delivery.

The (Drone) Near Future

Amazon received a Part 135 Air Carrier Certificate from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in 2020. This means the FAA has authorized Amazon to operate as an airline and deliver small packages via drone.

To receive Part 135 certification, they were required to submit detailed evidence that their operations are safe, and then demonstrate those operations to the FAA.

They developed and validated over 500 safety and efficiency processes, which formed the basis of their Part 135 submission. The FAA also rigorously inspected their drones and build processes and practices.

They’ll use this certification - the FAA’s approval of our operating and safety procedures - to conduct deliveries later this year to customers living in Lockeford, California, and College Station, Texas.

But they’re bringing more than drone delivery to Lockeford and College Station. Through these deliveries, they will create new jobs, build partnerships with local organizations, and help to reduce the impact of climate change on future generations by delivering packages via an electrically powered drone.

This is just the beginning. Amazon is constantly redefining, iterating, and experimenting to meaningfully transform the customer experience. They look forward to continuing to learn as they methodically expand this program to more customers in months and years to come.

Note: Article originally published on Amazon

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