It was only less than 12 months ago, back in June 2019, when e-commerce giant Amazon presented its latest fully electric delivery drone in Las Vegas. The advanced electronic device doesn’t resemble what you’d expect a typical drone to appear like. The hybrid device adopts a hexagonal design and has very few moving parts, key to its movement when taking off vertically and moving horizontally through the sky.
Amazon said these drones will start making deliveries in the coming months, that was back in 2019. Although this new delivery method looks promising, it’s still in the testing phase, as it’s not ready to be scaled up just yet. The company states that they have multiple international development centres, these are located in the United States, United Kingdom, Austria, France and Israel. The biggest question on the minds of many business owners is, how soon will this innovative technology become mainstream, and can it enter other markets such as food delivery.
Could Amazon Drones Deliver Fast Food?
Amazon acquired Whole Food Market, a multinational supermarket chain back in 2017. So, it makes sense that the parent company may be able to combine the two to offer a new way of delivering groceries to people’s doors. Interestingly, some are questioning if drones could be cost-effective in delivering fast food from takeaways to customers in a shorter space of time. This may also mean that food delivery insurance policies may need to be reviewed to be in line with aviation rules and regulations. Especially important, as the UK Government has passed legislation on what size drones are able to take flight and how far away they are able to travel from the owner. Health and safety will be in the national interest and operators will need to prove that they pose no harm to civilians.
Back to the technology, these drones include multiple sensors and a range of computing modules that use machine learning algorithms to make them safe for use. Visual, thermal and ultrasonic sensors are all incorporated. The company’s goal was to design and build a drone that can be as safe as possible, even when it’s not connected to the headquarters’ computer network. As for distance and capacity, the drones can fly up to 15 miles and carry just over 2kg respectively.
The online retail giant has improved the design multiple times over a number of years and is strongly pushing its wide range of sensors and safety features. Amazon’s VP for its ‘Prime Air’ service, Gur Kimchi, emphasised that almost all of the hardware and software is designed in house.
The biggest test will be deploying these drones in a real-world environment, as this will generate random events that the drone will have to navigate by making real time decisions. There isn’t a set date when these drones will start to make their first deliveries, but the advanced technology does look impressive.
If successful, Amazon could offer this alongside it’s already available ‘Prime delivery’ service. Although, will this option be used alongside it, or cost an additional fee remains to be seen. The company hasn’t divulged any details regarding how much it costs to deploy a drone, in addition to all the maintenance costs this new innovative initiative is likely to incur. What we do know is that new technology does become more affordable over time as research, development and manufacturing processes improve throughout the product lifecycle.
New ideas are what push society forward, this is just the air-freight delivery extension for small deliveries. Some technology reporters may liken the disruption this could have on the industry to that of self-driving cars and their potential future capabilities. In the beginning, only larger companies will have the means to deploy this technology, as not everyone will be able to lobby for regulators to rapidly make sweeping changes to aviation legislation. Without regulators making changes, this technology will remain on site and not be ready for lift-off.
Furthermore, if these drones are allowed to take flight commercially, every company selling a product will want to see if they can incorporate the delivery model into their own business, assuming it’s a success and off to a flying start. New delivery services such as Deliveroo, Just Eat and Uber Eats have proved popular amongst consumers, but can drones really be the future of food delivery? Only time will tell, and a lot of details still need to be outlined before we can make any real predictions. The biggest barriers are health and safety, cost and aviation legislation needing to be updated in any country that Amazon hopes to deploy these new autonomous drones.