Amazon is projecting a future where computers may fly a drone from a warehouse to a customer’s backyard to deliver a package. But first, it needs to get clearance. While Amazon’s delivery robots are now roaming California’s streets, the Amazon drone delivery service is still being requested at the Federal Aviation Administration.
Just this Thursday, the FAA published in the Federal Register a petition from Amazon that would allow the firm to operate “a delivery system that will get packages to customers in 30 minutes or less using UAS.”
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Amazon Drone Delivery Service Is Happening “Within Months”
It seems that Amazon has now requested the FAA for permission to use its custom MK27 drone for deliveries. Jeff Wilke, Amazon executive, said in June at re:Mars Conference that the drone would be able to travel 15 miles to carry packages weighing 5 lbs (2.3 kg) or less. Mr. Wilke did not say where in the world the drone deliveries would initially take place or precisely when. However, the US Federal Aviation Administration told the BBC it had granted Amazon a permit to operate the drone delivery service in the US.
In turn, the agency has granted the aircraft a certificate of airworthiness and an exemption from drone-specific rules, including a requirement that they only be operated when an operator can see it. “The FAA issued a Special Airworthiness Certificate to Amazon Prime Air allowing the company to operate its MK27 unmanned aircraft for research and development and crew training in authorized flight areas,” the regulator said. “Amazon Prime Air plans to use the aircraft to establish a package delivery operation in the United States. This certificate is valid for one year and is eligible for renewal.”
Amazon’s 29-page petition to the FAA states that the delivery drones will be flown without human input but that there will be one operator for each drone in the sky at any time. It also explains how the drone delivery service will be operated.
Addressing many of the safety concerns raised by the general public about the drone delivery service, Wilke said the drone’s AI capabilities allow it to not just fly autonomously but also react to real-life, unexpected situations, meaning the drone is “independently safe.”
He continued, “Our drones need to be able to identify static and moving objects coming from any direction. We employ diverse sensors and advanced algorithms, such as multiview stereo vision, to detect static objects like a chimney. To detect moving objects, like a paraglider or helicopter, we use proprietary computer-vision and machine learning algorithms.”
As part of the petition, the company plans to only conduct flights during daytime in “areas with low population density” when there are no “icing conditions” and when the wind is less than 24 knots.
Just this week, the University of Alaska completed the first FAA-approved “beyond line of sight” test. This is the first time the FAA was confident enough in a drone’s “detect and avoid” technology to allow it to fly outside the operator’s sight—a big step forward. One of the major barriers for Amazon was the FAA’s “line of sight” rule, which made it a requirement for any drones to fly only within an operator’s vision at all times.
The FAA will take public comments on the drone delivery service petition until August 28.