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Transportation

Amazon Reveals New Delivery Drone Design With Range of 15 Miles (geekwire.com) 277

reifman writes: Amazon released new video of its futuristic drones (honestly, the thought of them buzzing around is the only thing that makes me want to join the NRA) but there's some hopefulness here. Prime Air vehicles will take advantage of sophisticated 'sense and avoid' technology, as well as a high degree of automation, to safely operate beyond the line of sight to distances of 10 miles or more. 'It looks like science fiction, but it's real: One day, seeing Prime Air vehicles will be as normal as seeing mail trucks on the road.' Amazon said its drones fly under 400 feet and weigh less than 55 pounds.
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Amazon Reveals New Delivery Drone Design With Range of 15 Miles

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  • by ganjadude ( 952775 ) on Sunday November 29, 2015 @05:38PM (#51023059) Homepage
    The main legit use I can see would be to have this drone alone side of the delivery trucks. meaning the trucks get to keep driving, the drones when they get near the correct location grab the box and drop it on the doorstep. Less wasted gas due to keeping the truck moving, and more deliveries for the same reason.
    • by Areyoukiddingme ( 1289470 ) on Sunday November 29, 2015 @06:18PM (#51023237)

      The main legit use I can see would be to have this drone alone side of the delivery trucks. meaning the trucks get to keep driving, the drones when they get near the correct location grab the box and drop it on the doorstep.

      It's no accident that the range of the drone in the video is 15 miles. The typical major metropolitan area in the United States is about 30 miles across. One depot in the middle of the city, or two at opposite ends, and the vast majority of customers are accessible with no truck at all. That's also why the new drone is a VTOL airplane, complete with wings and a rear propeller. They were chasing that range, and wings was the way to do it.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        There are other challenges. The city where I live has three airports roughly 1/3 of the way around the circle, so each of those airports has a six-mile no-fly zone making huge areas off limits. Worse, a state agency not actually chartered to worry about air vehicles, has on their own decided most of the remaining actual downtown is also off-limits because they don't want drones flying near state-owned buildings.

        Note they have no legal constitutional ability to enforce this rule but they are doing so any

        • by Actually, I do RTFA ( 1058596 ) on Sunday November 29, 2015 @08:54PM (#51023823)

          each of those airports has a six-mile no-fly zone

          Which IIRC only applies above 400ft. There's a reason Amazon is aiming for below 400 ft travel.

          • I'm sorry, I don't care what altitude you assign this thing - "under 55lbs" of airframe and high-energy density battery zipping along fast enough to cover 20 miles on a single charge doesn't sound like a lot of fun when it makes "accidental contact" with anything I care about.

          • There is a great deal of misunderstanding of the whole 400ft thing...

            Way too many people have read one thing, somewhere, and run off into left field with it...

            The FAA regulates airspace in this country, from the ground to outer space, period.

            If you pickup in a helicopter, to just 5 feet, you're flying, you must have a pilot certificate, and you must be either in an airworthy aircraft, or on a maintenance test flight.

            The airspace starts from the first foot.

        • by drinkypoo ( 153816 ) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Sunday November 29, 2015 @10:55PM (#51024321) Homepage Journal

          The city where I live has three airports roughly 1/3 of the way around the circle, so each of those airports has a six-mile no-fly zone making huge areas off limits.

          Really? How do you use an airport in a no-fly zone? What airports actually have is controlled airspace, which means that you need to ask for (and receive) permission from the airport before you can fly, and you need to be in constant communication with the tower so they can for example tell you to ditch your drone if it interferes with someone having an emergency. It's not a no-fly zone.

          • Really? How do you use an airport in a no-fly zone?

            Don't be an idiot. You know perfectly well what the GP is referring to. The FAA says no UAS activity within 5 miles of an airport. To the extent that one can make advance arrangements - including special permission, a filed flight plan, etc - per flight, you might be able to get away with that. That completely rules out on-demand delivery services like those being discussed. In every practical sense, that makes the five miles surrounding airports UAS delivery NFZ's. The entire DC metro area and many other

        • Note they have no legal constitutional ability to enforce this rule but they are doing so anyway and will arrest people regardless if they have FAA approval. Amazon won't be exempted.

          New York City?

          In any case, of course they have the legal authority to enforce it... They are the FAA and they regulate all airspace in the US from the ground to outer space, out to 3 miles (or 12, depending) from the coasts.

          Check out CFR 91.1 and 91.119

          The rules are simple, and not... at the end of the day, the FAA is chartered to regulate and control the air space in the USA, from one foot up to space.

      • The typical major metropolitan area in the United States is about 30 miles across. One depot in the middle of the city, or two at opposite ends, and the vast majority of customers are accessible with no truck at all. That's also why the new drone is a VTOL airplane, complete with wings and a rear propeller. They were chasing that range, and wings was the way to do it.

        Nothing explains the most difficult part of the operation, public acceptance of something potentially noisy and dangerous in public airspace.
        We had the phone company try to put up a cell tower here. The design was unintrusive and as good as you could expect for a concrete pole, but the people marched on the streets and successfully blocked its installation. If people won't accept a silent, non-moving pole, there is no way this will ever get across the line.

    • Or rather have the drones *in* the delivery truck (where they can recharge). One problem though - this does not work for apartment units (well, unless Amazon does balcony delivery ;-)

      If they *must* use drones, who not *wheeled* delivery drones that can identify a doorbell and 'knock' for permission, deliver and scurry back to the truck?

      Air delivery is not sensible at all. Cue the celebrities getting unwanted, anonymous gifts by the thousands, all delivered by metallic whirlybirds.

      • by ceoyoyo ( 59147 )

        Why not? Most apartments have green space around them. The drone says "I'm 5 min out, go put out your Amazon logo SIFT target (tm)" and you pop downstairs with a chunk of cardboard to mark out the front lawn.

  • by xxxJonBoyxxx ( 565205 ) on Sunday November 29, 2015 @05:38PM (#51023063)

    >> normal as seeing mail trucks on the road

    Where I live, we have mailmen (or mailwomen) walking door to door. Mail trucks are usually parked several blocks away.

    >> drones fly under 400 feet and weigh less than 55 pounds

    Well that's good. I'm sure 55 pound weights dropped from 400 feet are harmless.

    • by AK Marc ( 707885 )
      Where I lived, the mailman parked on the street, walked a loop, and ended up back at the truck, and drove it 500 ft to the next street, to repeat his 3000 feet loop along the next block. The truck was never on a block the mailman wasn't. In colder climes, the boxes were on the street, so the mailman doesn't leave their vehicle.

      The solution would be more fun with spud guns and self driving cars. Shoot the packages the last 100 ft, and have the automated cars get into range.
    • >> normal as seeing mail trucks on the road

      Where I live, we have mailmen (or mailwomen) walking door to door.

      And if I had a dollar for everytime some new gimmick made the claim of "soon this will be as normal as.." I'd be rich.
      The Segway claimed something similar, and I very rarely see those things anywhere.

    • by XNormal ( 8617 )

      >> drones fly under 400 feet and weigh less than 55 pounds

      Well that's good. I'm sure 55 pound weights dropped from 400 feet are harmless.

      A four ton delivery vehicle at 25 miles per hour is not exactly harmless, either. In assessing the overall impact, you take into account both the potential damage from an accident and the probability of such accidents. For example, the fact that said delivery vehicle is operated by a driver that has been on the road for many hours and makes frequent stops and that the drone is equipped with 8 redundant rotor/motors and no doubt many other redundant systems and failure management strategies from the plannin

    • Do you feel the same way about all other aircraft, many of whom weigh much more and travel at much higher altitude, with the potential to cause a lot more damage if they fall out of the sky?

      Or automobiles, with which you have to trust that a generally unknown driver has: maintained their vehicle properly, knows the traffic laws, actually decides to *follow* the traffic laws, hasn't been drinking, isn't distracted by their cellphone, has decent vision, etc.

  • by Frosty Piss ( 770223 ) * on Sunday November 29, 2015 @05:45PM (#51023103)

    This is just Amazon pandering for free publicity. There are many many reasons drone delivery will probably never happen, certainly not within many years.

    • This is just Amazon pandering for free publicity. There are many many reasons drone delivery will probably never happen, certainly not within many years.

      I don't know...properly done this could save a lot of gas and driving, and possibly speed up some delivery times. I don't think it'll ever be fully automated until homes have some sort of pre-arranged "target" or zone for automated drones to home in on, but for small items I think this could (will) eventually become a fairly common thing.

      Load up the truck, drive to a central spot within range of X number of deliveries, and let the drones go. You might need human operators to guide them the last few feet to

      • by Areyoukiddingme ( 1289470 ) on Sunday November 29, 2015 @06:29PM (#51023303)

        What will really make or break this (in my opinion) is the financial metrics, i.e. is it profitable to use a drone delivery system? And my guess would be that yes, eventually it will be. Hell, it could be financially feasible right now I suppose.

        It's hard to tell with Amazon, since they're perfectly willing to do unprofitable things, but one supposes they have math that says it's in the ballpark, or they wouldn't continue sinking effort into it.

        We know a few things about the finances of the idea. Electricity is cheap. Really cheap. Electric motors and batteries are really efficient. And automated flight is a real thing. That means little or no pilot attention for much of its journey. Judging by the video, their explicit goal is no pilot attention for any part of the journey, unless the vehicle cries for help. Which means the labor cost is cheap. That sounds like a trifecta to me.

        • Yep.

          It would be fairly inexpensive to place a unique delivery ID beacon on every home that wanted drone delivery, and a designated drop-off spot would be easy to program in. For smaller items (say, under a couple of pounds) I can see where this delivery method would be enormously attractive to a hell of a lot of people.

          I just ordered a couple of CO detectors from Amazon. They're light enough that a drone could drop them off within a given range (and that range will only increase with time). And I'd sure be

          • Or they could just drop them in the mail, like everything else. The additional manpower and energy used is trivial. I'd even wager that Amazon gets a nice bulk rate on it's packages.

            • Or they could just drop them in the mail, like everything else.

              You're completely missing the point...this is about speed of delivery, not cost. Mail is slow. Even overnight is...well, overnight. 10 to 20 hours depending on when its ordered. Some people want it faster.

              A lot of people would pay some reasonable premium to have some widget they ordered be in their hands in an hour versus overnight or 3 to 5 days from the time of ordering. And overnight shipping is very expensive regardless of how small the item may be.

              Would a drone-delivered item be cheaper? Maybe, but it

          • It would be fairly inexpensive to place a unique delivery ID beacon on every home that wanted drone delivery, and a designated drop-off spot would be easy to program in.

            Didn't watch the video, hey? Recipients placed a ~1x1-foot marker plate out on the lawn which the drone homed in on to land and release the package. Then they just picked up their package and the marker plate and headed back inside. I'm guessing that Amazon plans to mail these out to customers when they sign up to a premium delivery service.

        • The patents may be extraordinarily lucrative.

        • I think that Amazon has also correctly identified that the two main barriers for people shopping online are the inability to verify the goods with your own eyes and the delay between your order and its arrival. This is why they cut a deal with the postal services to make them deliver Amazon packages on a Sunday.

          Amazon is also pursuing a seamless shopping experience that facilitates impulse buying. This is the reason for the way their shopping cart is designed with as few clicks between the customer and pu

        • That sounds like a trifecta to me.

          You missed the most important part of the puzzle, public approval, which IMO is a huge fail. There is no way this is ever going to be allowed in public airspace. The noise/visual pollution and saftey concerns is an unwinnable argument in this day and age.
          And if by some miracle does get approved, as soon as some clown puts a 55lb bomb on one and delivers it to someone he hates, that'll be the end of them forever.

  • Amazon has been in bed with the devil for a couple of years now. Nearly everything I order comes by USPS - the slowest, least reliable delivery service on Earth. The Post Office doesn't seem to understand that this is their last best chance to stay relevant and possibly get out of the red. Nope, they're sticking to their old ways - yesterday's technology delivering your packages tomorrow (or next week).

    Drones are still in the earliest stage of development, so there's no telling how they will fare in a few y
    • Huh? USPS isn't terribly fast (but you can wait an extra day or two for that toilet paper, yes?) but it is reliable. More reliable than a drone trying to land in 30 mph crosswinds with rain. The entire world does not consist of Southern California.

    • by rsborg ( 111459 ) on Sunday November 29, 2015 @08:18PM (#51023713) Homepage

      Amazon has been in bed with the devil for a couple of years now. Nearly everything I order comes by USPS - the slowest, least reliable delivery service on Earth.

      This is in direct opposition to my experience.

      The Post Office doesn't seem to understand that this is their last best chance to stay relevant and possibly get out of the red. Nope, they're sticking to their old ways - yesterday's technology delivering your packages tomorrow (or next week).

      Huh? Oh I see - your experience of their service is essentially filtered by your dogma (that the post office as part of the "government" is not hip enough). Keep in mind, that the USPS as a private entity that's highly controlled by Congressional edicts and orders (like this one mandating that they essentially have to run in debt to pay retirements for employees not even hired yet [1]. If you have an issue with USPS maybe you should take it up with your representative.

      Another thing you have to keep in mind, is that the USPS actually fulfills a lot of orders for UPS/FedEx - UPS/Fedex simply can't compete with the USPS for hard-to-reach areas, whereas the USPS has mandates to do so, and so has found a way to do it. [2]

      [1] http://thinkprogress.org/econo... [thinkprogress.org]
      [2] http://www.wsj.com/articles/u-... [wsj.com]

    • by Actually, I do RTFA ( 1058596 ) on Sunday November 29, 2015 @08:59PM (#51023843)

      best chance to stay relevant and possibly get out of the red. Nope, they're sticking to their old ways

      Well, according to most accounting standards and GAPP, they're in the black now. It's only a way of accounting for pensions that no other entity, public or private, uses that makes them look in the red. Congress forces them to use this bizarre method.

      THey also saved some tens of billions of dollars for a modernization effort. Congress literally took it away, and used it to finance the Bush tax cuts.

    • by DogDude ( 805747 )
      It's funny that you're suggesting that a government good should be profitable, but a private company doesn't have to.
  • by fisted ( 2295862 ) on Sunday November 29, 2015 @06:11PM (#51023209)

    honestly the though of them buzzing around

    [looks at editors with a blank expression]

  • by quantaman ( 517394 ) on Sunday November 29, 2015 @06:16PM (#51023227)

    Hardware fails, drones will fall from the sky, and no one seems to be discussing this. If they fly over the roads they'll fall in traffic and cause accidents, if they fly over the sidewalks they'll hit pedestrians and cause serious injury. I'm sure the hardware is reliable but I don't think people will have a lot of tolerance for drone related injuries, is the tech really so reliable that they could be deployed large-scale without falling drones becoming a concern?

    • Same is true of airplanes and the same objections were raised when they were new.

      • Same is true of airplanes and the same objections were raised when they were new.

        And we don't have major airports in the downtown core of major cities for partly that reason.

        But even the cheapest airplanes are extremely expensive and contain at least one pilot who really doesn't want to die. If your plane is getting to the state where it might fall out of the sky you repair or retire it.

        But say you have a fleet of 5 year old drones. You'll probably get another 3-4 years out of most before they fail completely so it's a waste of money to throw them out and buy new ones. Instead you'll ju

        • No, we don't have airports in city centers because airports are enormous and noisy.

          As usual, the whole "drones will fall on my head" thing is luddite horseshit based on little to no evidence from the real world.

          • No, we don't have airports in city centers because airports are enormous and noisy.

            For years Edmonton had a municipal airport close to the downtown used mostly by small planes, even with the small planes there were height restrictions on the buildings in the downtown. Now this is much more a concern with landing and takeoff rather than flying at altitude, but landing and takeoff are dangerous and that's a factor they consider.

            As usual, the whole "drones will fall on my head" thing is luddite horseshit based on little to no evidence from the real world.

            I'm not even sure how to respond to this, I offered specific reasoning based on economics and the reality of hardware failures and you just called it "luddite horses

            • As usual, the whole "drones will fall on my head" thing is luddite horseshit based on little to no evidence from the real world.

              I'm not even sure how to respond to this..

              You don't need to respond to it. Anyone who immediately turns to name-calling, mistakenly thinking it somehow validates their 'point', isn't worth the trouble to even listen to in the first place. Furthermore, that guy, whoever he is, is just another child (millennial, maybe?) who likely has never had anything bad happen to them their entire lives ('bad things happen to OTHER people!') and just can't imagine anything actually going wrong. They don't understand that technology can and does fail, and that whe

      • And earlier this year, a private airplane crash landed on the belt around Atlanta, so it does happen. There will be more drones flights than airplanes. Airplanes have extensive and expensive maintenance between flights. Airports are not in downtown areas. Airplanes also have high costs of construction, extensive backups, independent reivew and assessment of their construction and huge deisge budgets.

    • Here is something to think about as far as traffic goes. In several large cities where road speed is 55mph or higher, the overpasses now have chain link fence over the roadway because people have thrown bricks, rocks, and other objects over the side to be hit by traffic whizzing by. Several deaths have been attributed to this. Something as small as a 5lbs brick can crash through a windshield , the person sitting on the other side, and sometimes more.

      What I'm getting at is this won't be just a scratch on the

      • by ceoyoyo ( 59147 )

        I hear a 5000 lb delivery truck crashing through your windshield can also turn a good day into a bad day.

    • No matter what we do they will fail. However, they can be made to fail safe and hopefully infrequently. For example, drone designs and flight algorithms that ensure a controlled landing in the event of a motor failure.
      • However, they can be made to fail safe and hopefully infrequently

        I'm sorry, but I don't think you've ever designed any sort of technology in your entire life, let alone aircraft, if you think that way. You cannot control random failures. Prime example: Battery suddenly fails completely. No 'algorithm' can function in a system with NO POWER. Drone drops like a rock, maybe on a car, maybe on someone's head. I can't say it enough: When human safety and lives are at stake you cannot assume things will always work and just hope for the best, you have to take every precaution,

    • Hardware fails, drones will fall from the sky..

      This is all Amazon trying to create publicity for themselves. It'll never really happen.

  • I suppose it's time to invest in head-protection companies. Nothing more futuristic sounding than drones dropping off discounted underwear, but we all know these will end up killing people - directly or not.

  • Tis quite a fall from grace, you can tell by his voice that he doesn't feel even 1% of the passion for Amazamazon drones as he does for tearing through the winding roads of Wales in All-British V12 petrol-drinking Coupes
    • Can't he still do that?

    • Fall from grace? He, Hammond, and May are working on a new motoring show currently with a bigger budget than they ever could have hoped when they were working with the BBC. They probably all got a nice pay raise as well. There's probably a few clauses in the contract that they need to do some Amazon based commercials, but who cares?

  • ...am surprised we haven't seen any "overlords" posts yet.

    This seems like cool technology for delivery of expedited packages and take-out food, but I'm not looking forward to junk-mail drones.

  • Noise pollution (Score:5, Interesting)

    by pubwvj ( 1045960 ) on Sunday November 29, 2015 @06:28PM (#51023291)

    If they're buzzing around they're going to be like having snowmobiles and dirt bikes overhead. We already have too much noise pollution and don't need more, especially low flying drones.

    • "they're going to be like having snowmobiles and dirt bikes overhead".

      They run on electric motors and batteries. Not gas engines. I have one. They are very quiet.

  • Timing (Score:5, Insightful)

    by speedplane ( 552872 ) on Sunday November 29, 2015 @07:25PM (#51023511) Homepage
    Amazon releases a major announcement about a speculative but futuristic technology they are developing 12 hours before their biggest sale of the year. Coincidence?
  • How are they going to work this with trees? Most of my property has huge trees all over it and the main area that doesn't have trees does have several different sets of power lines. We have normal ones and high-voltage lines above them on much taller poles.

    It would be challenging for human standing outside to get a drone in or out of here, or indeed to most of my neighbor's homes.

    And in my case, I have a overhang porch with wood columns. Amazon would have to navigate under that porch to put the packages

    • Not counting your airport problem, it's quite possible that properties like yours will simply be on the "Sorry, we can't deliver to your address by this mechanism" list. That's going to be true of millions and millions of residences. Probably MOST residences. This will be more useful for exurbs, and for deliveries to places like corporate office parks, hospitals, or other spots that might need rush deliveries and have more reliably plausible LZs. Logistics are likely to be case by case.
  • The most interesting thing from this video is that Amazon is playing with tiltrotor concepts for their delivery drone design.
  • by Irate Engineer ( 2814313 ) on Sunday November 29, 2015 @08:48PM (#51023805)

    Hmmm...I could see some nefarious person or organization painting an Amazon logo on their drone, loading it up with 55 lbs of plastic explosive/ anthrax spores/[insert mayhem causing substance or object here], and flying it off to fuck up someone's day. It would look "legit", as you don't have to mock up a delivery truck to put the package on someone's doorstep.

    It will be interesting when a bunch of senators and congressmen suddenly get packages from "Amazon" delivered to their doorstep - all at once.

    And if you're wondering, I'm still not a terrorist, you damned infidels. [slashdot.org]

    • Given that we've just had a couple of high profile examples of actual terrorist attacks, you'll note a lack of:
      • drones
      • plastic explosive
      • any other high tech device

      You will note an oversupply of:

      • firearms
      • fanatics prepared to use them
      • Given that we've just had a couple of high profile examples of actual terrorist attacks, you'll note a lack of:

        • drones
        • plastic explosive
        • any other high tech device

        You will note an oversupply of:

        • firearms
        • fanatics prepared to use them

        Yes? I also noted the lack of airliners and box knives as well. What's your point?

    • Hmmm...I could see some nefarious person or organization painting an Amazon logo on their drone,

      Why would they need an Amazon logo? This technology already exists for people not interest in following rules. Nothing Amazon is doing changes this.

      • Jack - that wooshing sound you just heard is the sound of my OP flying over your head. Don't be frightened.

        I'm sorry, but you're clearly not cut out for doing (or blocking) nefarious deeds.

  • You think phone apps make money selling the data they collect from unsuspecting users? Think about how much data Amazon will collect flying over people's backyards with high resolution sensors.

  • Maybe off topic, but I've wondered why some misinformed and mislead idiot hasn't yet used one of these things to fly explosive ordinance into a large crowd of people.

    • Maybe off topic, but I've wondered why some misinformed and mislead idiot hasn't yet used one of these things to fly explosive ordinance into a large crowd of people.

      A drone packed with explosives is called a "cruise missile". They've been used to fly into groups of people for many decades. Granted by the armed forces (frequently misinformed and mislead), but it's the morning and I feel like being deeply pedantic. So there.

  • This drone design is a pathetic pretense from end to end. For starters, consider the wing loading, it will be off the end of the scale. Look at the eensy weensy props. You can get anything to fly if you put a big enough engine on it, so... gigantic engines, right? Not. And whacking big battery to slide that aerodynamic turd through 15 miles of atmosphere... nowhere to be seen. To cap it off, feast your eyes on the excess of vertical stabilizer and the table-saw grade longitudinal struts. Oh, how about the b

  • Amazon said its drones fly under 400 feet and weigh less than 55 pounds."

    There are several issues with that, the first being that 55lbs from 400ft is a lot of mass traveling really fast...

    But assuming they somehow make them perfectly reliable, you have the issue of other air traffic and obstacles that aren't on charts under 400ft.

    Yes, yes, someone will quote the rules about altitude and airplanes. Someone forgot that helicopters exist, and that airplanes do sometimes fly lower as well.

    A lot of light helicopters do not have any technology to avoid other traffic other than the Mk

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