Two years after it first revealed its ambition to deliver small packages by drone during a 60 Minutes broadcast, on-line retailer Amazon has revealed a new platform design for the mission. The latest design is a multi-rotor helicopter that rises vertically, then transitions to horizontal flight using a pusher propeller.
When it announced its future Prime Air delivery service in December 2013, Seattle-based Amazon revealed a small helicopter with eight rotors. Its stated goal is to deliver packages weighing up to five pounds in 30 minutes or less from a fulfillment center. The secretive company has now unveiled the hybrid aircraft design in a video featuring journalist Jeremy Clarkson, who formerly starred in the BBC television series Top Gear and now works for Amazon.
“After rising vertically, like a helicopter, to nearly 400 feet, this amazing hybrid design assumes a horizontal orientation and becomes a streamlined and fast airplane,” Clarkson states in the video. “In time there will be a whole family of Amazon drones, (with) different designs for different environments. This one can fly for 15 miles, and it knows what’s happening around it—it uses sense-and-avoid technology to sense and then avoid obstacles on the ground and in the air.”
On its website, Amazon said that it has developed more than a dozen drone prototypes of varying designs. It has based Prime Air development centers in the U.S., the UK and Israel, and is testing the air vehicles in multiple international locations. “The look and characteristics of the vehicles will evolve over time,” the company added.
In April, the Federal Aviation Administration granted Amazon an exemption to test-fly a proprietary drone over property the company owns in Washington state. To allow for the entry of small commercial drones into the national airspace system, the company is lobbying regulators to develop a zone of segregated airspace below 500 feet to safely separate them from manned aircraft.