Amazon hopes to stay ahead of the competition with the use of drones powered by AI and computer vision technology. Amazon unveiled the radically-designed new drone at a June meeting hosted by the FAA and the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International. What makes this drone different? And how will it overcome the challenges of automated package delivery?
Amazon Designs an Unmanned Drone with AI
One defining feature of Amazon’s new drone is that it has no human pilot. The drone can identify objects, moving or not, regardless of the direction they are moving. Diverse sensors and advanced AI algorithms, including multi-view stereo vision, can detect both static and moving objects. In addition, Amazon’s computer vision and machine learning algorithms power the drone’s AI.
While a normal quadcopter drone has four degrees of freedom, Amazon’s drone has six. This feature enables for more dynamic and nimble flight for the individual drones. The drone’s tilting design allows it to use the same six propellers to fly forward that it uses for takeoff and landing. Packages are kept in the fuselage. Amazon’s goal for its drone delivery program is to develop fully electric drones that can fly up to 15 miles and deliver packages under five pounds to customers in less than 30 minutes. Doing so would accommodate 75 to 90 percent of the items purchased on Amazon.
Amazon has tested drone prototypes for years but has only recently been able to solve some critical challenges for unmanned package delivery. Drones must be able to detect and avoid aircraft that do not transmit electronic signals, as well as hazards like utility wires, clotheslines, and even pets. Machine learning models enable online computers to identify obstacles and navigate around them.
Amazon Creates a Safer Drone for FAA Approval
Amazon’s drone is a hybrid aircraft that is capable of vertical takeoff and landing, but can also perform sustained forward flight. For customers to feel comfortable receiving drone deliveries, they must feel that drones are safe, so Amazon invested heavily in the drone’s safety features. Amazon says the drone is as robust and as stable as a commercial aircraft. It accomplishes this by using thermal cameras, depth cameras, and sonar to detect hazards.
One hurdle to getting a drone delivery system approved by the FAA is the newness of drone technology. However, Amazon is hoping to get around that problem by using FAA-approved parts and parts that have been designed with approval in mind. The idea is that the FAA will more readily approve designs they’ve seen before.
Visit our Embedded Vision Systems in UAVs educational section to discover how advanced vision technologies are enhancing possibilities for drones.
Photo Credit: Amazon