Amazon drones on - Amazon Prime Air & Surveillance as a service

Vendors and FBA Sellers rejoice! Amazon recently presented their new drone in Las Vegas at Re:Mars 2019. The announcement suggested customer delivery by drone may be closer than we think. Amazon claims that drone delivery will in fact be available in the next few months. Uncle Jeff promised this before though, predicting that the service would be available by 2018, a target that has passed. It appears that getting permission and building the drone is the easy part. Implementing all the systems to make Prime Air an actual reality for customer delivery is a Sisyphean challenge in itself. Amazon constantly reevaluates its drones for safety and security which may be why it is taking much longer than Jeff Bezos originally thought.

The newest model drone is packed with thermal and depth cameras, as well as sonar to detect hazards. What’s more is that it has fully automated machine learning so that its onboard computers can automatically identify obstacles and navigate around them with no outside instruction to do so. This includes fixed obstacles such as washing lines and phone lines but also dynamic obstacles such as birds. The new drone will also refuse to land if the drop-off site is obstructed by something including animals or people, severely reducing the chance of accidents happening. 

Amazon claims that their new version of drone will be able to fly up to 15 miles and deliver packages under five pounds to customers in less than 30 minutes. This means two things:

  1. Not all products will be available for Prime Air due to their size and weight. This isn’t a bad thing though as heavy products would provide a larger health & safety risk to be dispatched approximately 400 feet above the ground. Although protective measures are in place, items such as plasma TVs would also be unsuitable for drone delivery due to their delicate nature.
  2. The speed at which drones can be dispatched and deliver products will vastly increase Amazon’s Prime 1-day delivery target.

75-90% of items bought on Amazon are said to be under the drone’s weight limit

Jeff Wilke, Amazon’s Worldwide Consumer CEO, also suggested that the new drone will be fully electric suggesting that it will be a much greener alternative to normal deliveries by courier. Prime Air is ultimately one of the sustainability initiatives to help achieve “Shipment Zero”. The company envisions to make all Amazon shipments net zero carbon, with 50% of all shipments net zero by 2030.

Never one to miss an opportunity to improve customer satisfaction, Amazon has also started thinking about the other benefits that Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) could provide. Amazon is fully aware that with great power comes great responsibility. They have applied for a patent that allows their drones to keep a watch on their customer’s property while delivering packages. This patent has been accepted but also expressly claims that privacy must still be maintained. The patent was originally filed in June 2015 but became public earlier this month. It describes how the company’s drones could be hired to check for signs of break-ins such as open garage doors and broken windows. It can also check for graffiti or house fires then will alert the property owner of the issue.

Drone security and delivery is not exclusive to Amazon though. There are other drone companies such as Sunflower Labs (which provides security) and Flytrex (which provides a food delivery service). Unlike these companies though, Amazon intends to ensure their drones multi-task between dispatching products and providing security to its users with the priority being on the former. Some critics have suggested that Amazon’s jump into drone security may still be a breach of privacy, however, as information gathering is a major part of how Amazon provides the quality of customer service it has become famous for. Despite this, Amazon’s patent describes how implemented geo-fencing technology will ensure Amazon’s UAVs only capture footage of properties subscribed to the service. It will be interesting to see just how Amazon executes this patent though – they have a habit of patenting ideas without actually implementing them.

Amazon has designed more than two dozen drones since the company placed their sights on drone deliveries in 2013

Amazon is dedicated to providing a drone delivery system for Prime customers and it is apparent that once Prime Air has ‘taken off’ they will continue to develop the service. With unused patents such as an unmanned Amazon warehouse airship and a bee-hive like structure to house delivery drones, Amazon clearly holds ideas to remain the front-runner in technological innovation and customer service. Key competitors such as Walmart are also investing in drone delivery, so it’s only a matter of time before we might see a sky filled with environmentally-sound drones and all our packages arriving within 30 minutes of purchase.