LAS VEGAS — Amazon’s drone ambitions took another step forward today as the tech giant revealed its latest delivery drone design.
At Amazon’s re:MARS conference, Amazon’s Worldwide Consumer CEO, Jeff Wilke, showed off a fully-electric drone that can fly up to 15 miles and deliver packages under 5 pounds in less than 30 minutes.
One of the drones, which is roughly the size of a go-cart, rose dramatically from a corner of the stage as Wilke spoke at this morning’s keynote presentation.
“You’re going to see this new drone delivering packages to customers in months,” Wilke told the Vegas crowd.
Although Wilke didn’t immediately provide further details on the timetable, Amazon’s drone deliveries are likely to begin as limited pilot projects conducted with the Federal Aviation Administration’s approval. At least that’s the way it’s working for the drone delivery projects that are currently underway.
Amazon’s new hexagon-shaped drone looks different from the experimental robotic aircraft that made Amazon Prime Air’s first aerial drop-offs in England in 2016 and in California in 2017.
“Our newest drone design includes advances in efficiency, stability and, most importantly, in safety,” Wilke wrote in a blog post. “It is also unique, and it advances the state of the art. How so? First, it’s a hybrid design. It can do vertical takeoffs and landings – like a helicopter. And it’s efficient and aerodynamic – like an airplane. It also easily transitions between these two modes – from vertical mode to airplane mode, and back to vertical mode.”
The drone is beefed up with shielding for safety’s sake, and it also has a proprietary computer vision system that can detect other flying objects from miles away, as well as the clotheslines in your backyard. “Wire detection is one of the hardest challenges for low-altitude flights,” Wilke explained.
If the drone senses that obstructions — ranging from trees and yard furniture to homeowners and their pets — are too close to the spot where a printed delivery target has been laid down, the computer-vision system will hold off on the delivery, Wilke said.
Had a blast sharing the stage at re:MARS with the newest member of our Prime Air drone family. Can’t wait to see this beautiful drone making ultra-fast deliveries to Amazon customers. #reMARShttps://t.co/92k3S2wWUI
— Jeff Wilke (@jeffawilke) June 5, 2019
Amazon has been testing a variety of drone designs for its delivery service, at hush-hush sites in locales ranging from rural Washington state and Canada to Israel and the Netherlands.
Earlier this year, the company announced that it would make one-day delivery the new standard for Prime, its $119-per-year membership program. On Monday it said that free one-day shipping will be available to Prime members on more than 10 million products, with no minimum purchase amount.
Fast delivery has become a hotly contested frontier in Amazon’s competition with Walmart and other retailers. Last month, Walmart announced a plan to extend free one-day package delivery to 75 percent of the U.S population by the end of the year.
Today Wilke said Amazon’s drones will open the way to same-day delivery.
GeekWire managing editor Taylor Soper contributed to this report.