Amazon’s Drone-Delivery Dreams Are No Joke

Backchannel’s Steven Levy reports that Amazon “has a site at an undisclosed semi-rural location where it attempts to simulate the possible obstacles that drones will face in real-world deliveries.” Amazon’s drones reach speeds of 60 miles per hour, and can perform a 20-mile round trip, which makes Amazon believe they could especially useful deliveries to the suburbs, some rural areas. “The facility features a faux backyard and other simulated locations where drones might have to drop off their cargo.” An anonymous reader quotes their report: “For a while, we were missing clotheslines,” says Paul Viola, an AI expert who is charge of Prime Air’s autonomy efforts. Now, Amazon’s vehicles have a “Don’t Hit Clotheslines!” rule in their code. There’s even a simulated dog (though not a robot) that Amazon uses to see how the vehicles will respond to canine threats… Amazon is also planning for urban deliveries, with the idea of landing drones on rooftops [and] eventually it might expand to multiple deliveries per expedition, or even take returns back to the warehouse… All of this is done without human intervention. Drones know where to go and how to get there without a human sitting at a ground station actually flying the plane… [A]n Air Prime technician can order a drone to land, but ultimately the drones are autonomous. Amazon envisions that eventually it will have sort of an air traffic controller monitoring the flight patterns of multiple drones. If something goes wrong, “the first rule of Amazon drones is to abort the flight, returning to base or even carefully finding a landing spot from which to send a rescue signal. ‘If it doesn’t seem safe, it will land as soon as safely possible,’ says Gur Kimchi, who has headed the Prime Air team for four years. (He previously worked at Microsoft.)”

Read more of this story at Slashdot.


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