Amazon Unveils Hybrid Drone for Deliveries

by Alan Levin, Bloomberg

Amazon.com Inc. has unveiled a revolutionary new drone — part helicopter and part science-fiction aircraft — that the company expects to use for test deliveries of toothpaste and other household goods starting within months.

The new device takes off vertically, then tilts to fly horizontally like a plane. It also features artificial intelligence, using a suite of sensors the company said will allow it to fly robotically without threatening traditional aircraft or people on the ground.

“We have a design that is amazing,” Gur Kimchi, vice president of Amazon Prime Air, said in an interview in which he declined to say where the device would be tested. “It has performance that we think is just incredible. We think the autonomy system makes the aircraft independently safe.”

The Amazon announcement was full of drama as Jeff Wilke, chief of the company’s global consumer business, revealed the device at a technology conference in Las Vegas to booming music and theatrical smoke.

The device is clad in a shroud to shield people from the propellers; the shroud also functions as a high-efficiency wing for horizontal flying. The drone is likely to challenge regulators, because standards do not yet exist for its robotic features.

One of its competitors, Alphabet Inc.’s Wing, in April became the first drone company to win FAA approval to operate as a small airline and is planning its own delivery tests. United Parcel Service Inc. and drone startup Matternet Inc. began using drones to move medical samples between hospitals in Raleigh, North Carolina, in March.

Amazon’s business model for the device is to make deliveries within 7.5 miles (12 kilometers) from a company warehouse and to reach customers within 30 minutes. It can carry packages weighing as much as five pounds. More than 80% of packages sold by the retail behemoth are within that weight limit, Kimchi said. Full report

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