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Amazon Customers in Texas and California Will Begin Receiving Packages via Prime Air Drones Later This Year

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【Summary】Online retailer Amazon released a new video showing its latest electrically-powered delivery drone in flight and shared some new information on how the aircraft are being tested. The e-commerce giant aims to start the first U.S. drone deliveries of customer packages in Lockeford, CA and College Station, TX later this year.

Eric Walz    Aug 10, 2022 11:30 AM PT
Amazon Customers in Texas and California Will Begin Receiving Packages via Prime Air Drones Later This Year
Amazon’s newest drone design is called the MK27-2. The hexagonal design offers improved stability and the propellers are designed to reduce noise.

Online retailer Amazon released a new video showing its latest electrically powered delivery drone in flight and shared some new information on how the aircraft is built and tested. The company aims to start the first U.S. drone deliveries of customer packages in Lockeford, California and College Station later this year. The packages will be delivered via drone to the backyards of customer homes.

Amazon has been working on drone technology since 2013, which may help its customers receive their packages even faster. Amazon said that its Prime Air drones will be able to deliver packages weighing 5 lbs or less to customers in under an hour, as well as in a safe and scalable way.

Although the drones won't carry passengers, Amazon took an aerospace approach to ensure the highest levels of safety while in flight with a decade of planning. The e-commerce giant focused on three main components for the design of the Prime Air drones, which include the drone's body, the brains behind the autonomous flight systems and the "rules of the sky".

The result is a drone that is just as reliable as the ground transportation methods the company uses to deliver packages, according to Amazon.

The brains of the drone include a sophisticated "sense-and-avoid system" to ensure the aircraft is able to detect and stay away from obstacles and hazards both in the air and on the ground, such as other aircraft and people and pets in backyards. With this system in place, Amazon says that in any unexpected situations it could be dealt with autonomously and safely. 

If the environment changes during a flight and the drone‘s flight control system commands it to perform a maneuver that may cause the drone to come into contact with an object that wasn't there previously, it will refuse the command. Although this type of flight system for a drone was difficult to build, Amazon said it was the only option in order to scale the safe deployment of autonomous drones.

The "rules of the sky" is another important component for the operation of drones, which must be programmed into its flight systems. Amazon is creating an automated drone-management system to plan flight paths and ensure there are safe distances between its aircraft and other aircraft that may be in the area. Amazon says its rules comply with all current aviation regulations, which are enforced by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

The design and flight of Amazon's drones was developed by a team of safety, aerospace, science, robotics, software, hardware, testing, and manufacturing experts working to ensure that the drones meet the rigors for everyday use as a commercial aerospace product.

The drones are currently being tested at Amazon's Prime Air flight testing facility in Oregon. The drones undergo a rigorous testing procedure and every aspect of the technology that Amazon builds for its drones is a learning experience that's used to improve the safety of them. Over the last two years of testing, Amazon has made over 188 updates to its system that have improved such aspects as noise and equipment ergonomics.

Amazon says its drone development teams in Oregon have logged thousands of flight hours. As a result of all of the rigorous testing of its drones, Amazon says it now has some of the world's most sophisticated hardware, software, and autonomy capability for drone delivery.

To prepare for drone deliveries in California and Texas, Amazon received a Part 135 Air Carrier Certificate from the FAA in 2020. This means the FAA has authorized us to operate as an airline and deliver small packages via drone.

To receive Part 135 certification, Amazon was required to submit detailed evidence that its drone operations are safe, and then demonstrate those operations to the FAA. Amazon said it developed and validated over 500 safety and efficiency processes ahead of its Part 135 application. 

Part of the Part 135 certification includes the FAA rigorously inspecting Amazon's drones, build process and practices. The certification paves the way for Amazon to begin deliveries later this year to customers in California and Texas.

Amazon is not the only company planning to deliver packages using drones. In March, FedEx Express announced its teaming up with San Francisco-based aviation startup Elroy Air to build the first autonomous vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) aerial cargo system.  It's the first of its kind agreement in the world.  

The plans include FedEx Express testing Elroy Air's Chaparral C1 autonomous electric vertical take off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft in 2023. Elroy Air announced the Chaparral C1 in January. The first version of the aircraft will be able to transport 300–500lbs of cargo a range of up to 300 miles. 

The Chaparral can land, deposit cargo, pick up another load, and take-off again, all in just a few minutes and without any human oversight. It's designed to carry cargo in lightweight, aerodynamic cargo pods which are pre-loaded by FedEx ground personnel. 

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