Amazon Shows Off New Prime Air Drone With Hybrid Design


Amazon delivered a lovely update on its ‘Prime Air’ project today — almost exactly two years after it showed the first iteration of its drone. You know, the flying delivery dronethat some thought was a massive joke meant for April 1st. Included are some high-res shots and two new videos.The video, moderated by ex-Top Gear host Jeremy Clarkson (who is now working on a new series for Amazon), talks about the design and your experience as a recipient:

As you can see, Amazon has now moved to a hybrid design. It looks much bigger than in previous renderings. Imagine that thing flying towards the neighbor’s house. Get ready for reports of aliens rising if this thing ever comes to fruition.

The new Prime Air drone isn’t just a quadcopter anymore. It still takes off and lands vertically, but then it switches to a regular horizontal flight mode, which is far more efficient. It’s basically part helicopter, part airplane. With this new design, the drone can cover over 15 miles and fly over 55 mph, Amazon says. In the video, Clarkson says Amazon is working on a family of drones for different environments and purposes.

The new drones feature at least some degree of sense-and-avoid technology and once it arrives at its intended location, it’ll scan the area and look for a landing spot. Right now, it looks like users will be able to mark this spot in their yard, for example, with an Amazon logo. The drone then lands, drops off the package and takes off again.

“This design enables it to fly long distances efficiently and go straight up and down in a safe, agile way. It is one of many prototype vehicles we have developed,” an Amazon spokesperson told us. “One day, seeing Prime Air vehicles will be as normal as seeing mail trucks on the road.”

Obviously, Amazon still has a few hurdles to climb, even with this new design. Chances are, we won’t see these new drones deliver packages in a city anytime soon. The new design, however, should work really well in a more rural and suburban area (and yes, feel free to leave us a comment about how you would shoot it down if it flew over your house).

If Amazon can solve some of the harder sense-and-avoid issues (like small power lines), then maybe Prime Air will take off sooner than many of use expected (assuming Amazon manages to work within the FAA’s upcoming regulations for commercial drones).

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  • Look at the live view example of the ships in range :)

    Also imagine the cost of changing the course of a big cargo ship in case of any need... :)

  • Guys, this is already a usable system for ship to ship on sea small cargo, like medial supplies, documents, food etc.. If i had a prototype like this i would investigate this market as a potential source of decent income. 

  • Developer

    Forget about drone-napping, what about the countless things that can go wrong just making sure it's safe to land. It's not exactly like the average customer will have a nice spot of grass to land on with open terrain around like they shown in the advert. Uneven terrain, power lines, buildings blocking signals, children playing, pets... the list just goes on.

    The only marginal solution I can imagine with today's tech, would be a live video stream to some operator monitoring and selecting a suitable landing spot.

  • (sorry, John's comment wasn't visible when I posted mine)


  • This will definitely happen guys. If it seems ridiculous to need anything in that big of a hurry, think about how ridiculously easy we have it compared to a few generations ago. People used to be happy to wait for days for a letter to arrive before email. Have you ever paid a few extra dollars for express shipping? Yes you have. And as soon as one hour delivery by drone is available, you will pay extra for that too. It is not really about a need, it is about providing a service and charging for that service. Many of the items that go into my airframes have been left unattended on my front porch at some point. It is not a big issue. They don't need to land anywhere, that is stupid. Just drop it. I know from first hand experience, even one thirty foot drop is nothing compared to what a package goes through in a delivery truck, believe me. If the item needs to be protected from the drop, then do it. The buyer will gladly assume all liability or they just won't do it, again not a problem. Open your amazon app, buy your item, a sattelite map of your property appears, click on the exact spot you want your package to be dropped, confirm, decide if you want an unattended or attended drop, then go about your business. If you chose unattended drop, you will receive a text and email as soon as your package arrives. If you chose attended drop, you will receive a text or call when the drone is hovering outside, go outside and see your package hovering there, click drop on your app, the package drops.
  • But couldn't streaming video go a long way to counter the drone-napping problem? Multiple drones viewable from a central video terminal, and when each one reaches final approach, it is supervised for the few vulnerable seconds?

    Centralized drop-boxes could also reduce that risk by simply making the exchange point just high enough off the ground to make opportunistic snatching impractical.

    Front doorsteps and backyards aren't really practical anyway because you need high population density for this to approach viability, and the higher the population density, the more people who don't possess backyards or front doorsteps (condo dwellers, etc.)

    I agree, the economics seem dubious for now, especially given the severe current payload restriction. But max payloads will evolve steadily upwards.

    I might look first for niches where rapid delivery of smallish packages is vital.


  • Seems to me this service would only make sense  in situations where speed of delivery has the highest priority, and both cost of alternatives and content value are high. Clearly not the case of a book delivery with $2 markup ...

    As far as the possibility of stealing, sure. But that's like saying that the  contents of any mail box, or that large package delivered by the FedEx guy at your door step, can be stolen. It will be a issue, but not one unique or problematic enough to justify scraping the whole idea.

    While also experimental and with a fair share of pure marketing content, I thought this example is a good one showing how this sort of delivery may make sense in the future:

  • Moderator

    Hi Rob

    Exactly my point. Why will Amazon send out thousands of dollars of equipment in the air to make 2$ on a book sale. the risk to the business simply is not worth the cash outlay. The FAA will not care if these go missing! (one less for them to worry about).

    The risk is that a bad guy can easily have a stolen credit card or pay with a real paypal a/c with a fake address that just happens to be an empty house, Amazon tell him when the delivery is going to be and he arrives a few minutes before and drives way with his book and the drone. 3 minutes later its parts that no-one can trace. 

    Even if amazon self destruct the electronics the batteries , motors and props still make it a worthwhile theft for the thief. 

  • I don't agree at all.  Car theft has been largely prevented, but only because they are big and hard to move.  You need the keys, or a tow truck.  But look how much of a problem laptop and bicycle theft is today.

    Simply knowing who ordered the book will not tell them who was hiding in the bushes with a net, and came at it from behind to snare it.  

    This will never work.  I think the system will need to be at least an order of magnitude more intelligent before this will be plausible.  Full awareness of the environment through optical means, omni-directional vision, face recognition, etc. etc.

    All to deliver a book or a pair of shoes?  

  • Why would I want to shoot it down? I have a better idea.

    Civilian GPS in the United States is unencrypted. So, if I see an Amazon drone flying over my house with a package attached, I would hit it with a GPS spoofer signal. True, the smarts to create that signal may take a little work, but still very do-able. All the hardware would have to do is send false GPS signal strings while detecting the drone location relative to the Amazon target that I have set up in my yard. By manipulating the string variables and timing, it should be possible to lock the drone's navigation circuits on my false signal and 'walk' it back to the centre of my yard. If I keep the drone there by diddling its faked position calculations, eventually the thing will think it has reached its destination and then, viola, there is my landing target.

    I wonder what neat stuff the Amazon Santa will being me.
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