Amazon drones — it’s almost a buzzword at this point. Living in a rural area, at least compared to metropolises like New York City, San Francisco and Los Angeles, I’ve been waiting years for a drone to land on my doorstep and deliver my much-awaited package. And who knows, maybe it could all take place within hours after ordering?
That fantasy isn’t quite a reality. But Amazon recently unveiled a new drone system which takes us a step in the right direction. This fully-electric delivery system consists of hexagonal hybrid drones that can take off like an airplane and then transition into helicopter-mode. Scary during the apocalypse but convenient when you want your stuff fast.
A New Type of Drone
Chock full of optical, thermal and ultrasonic sensors, Amazon’s new drones autonomously follow routes and manoeuvre to safe landing spots. What gives these drones the ability to operate without explicit instructions is machine learning, where the drone’s computer system learns through observing patterns and disruptions. Then, when a disruption occurs, the drone can decide on the best, safest course of action.
This means we’ve given robots — flying robots, in this case — the ability to alter themselves. If that thought horrifies you, then I suggest you don’t dig any deeper into AI (artificial intelligence), which Stephen Hawking claimed would be the destroyer of the human race.
Luckily, these robots aren’t designed to destroy. And while they can fly autonomously, they don’t have the capability for deep learning, a much more complicated subset of machine learning that is extremely fast and accurate. One well-known deep learning example is the AlphaGo algorithm designed by Google-sibling DeepMind, which was able to teach itself superhuman levels of chess play without human input in just four hours.
The Future of Amazon Delivery
This isn’t some system being teased years before the launch date. Amazon announced a plan to use the drone delivery system within the coming months. Fully electric, they can carry up to five pounds — items like a paperback book, a stick of deodorant or a bottle of lotion — and complete your delivery within half an hour.
What will it be like to see an Amazon drone flying through your neighbourhood? Well, you might hear it first, a light buzzing noise akin to a dentist’s drill. But even if you don’t see them, these drones are programmed to keep people as safe as possible, willing to delay or abort a delivery if a person or object is in the landing area. Computer vision is also used to avoid power lines, hang gliders, kites and other types of obstructions.
The ultimate goal of the drone system is to reduce shipping times for prime customers. Apparently, one-day delivery isn’t quick enough. But with billions of orders each year, robotics are allowing Amazon to fulfil promises to customers while maintaining order accuracy. The fully electric drones are also part of the company’s commitment to go net-zero on carbon by 2030.
What are your thoughts on Amazon’s new drone delivery system? Ultimately, it will add convenience to our lives. Products will arrive within hours instead of days. And gone are the awkward interactions with the mailman. But is there a cost? I don’t think we will know for sure until the system is in use.