Amazon Prime Drones: 5 Critical Problems to Fix

amazon prime drones

Can Amazon Drone Delivery Really Work?

Hey there!  Have you heard  Amazon is developing their “Prime Air Service” to deliver small packages by drone?  Amazon’s future vision of drone package delivery is: “one day, seeing Amazon prime drones buzzing around delivering packages will be as routine as seeing mail trucks on the road.”

Amazon released this video teaser, showing how the delivery system will work. The charming host is none other than Jeremy Clarkson, the Ex-Top Gear Host.

Watch this!

Though Amazon is running delivery testing in the US, UK, and Israel, they are a long way off from actually making this a working system.  Here are five critical problems that need to be overcome before this service can become a reality:

Problem #1:  Safety Concerns

Reliability:

What if the delivery drone’s power system malfunctions and drops out of the sky?  Though Amazon says they are experimenting with different styles of delivery drones, the hybrid drone in the video weighs up to 55 pounds. That’s a hefty chunk of hardware to come crashing down on property or people. The delivery system will need to undergo rigorous testing to make sure it’s as reliable or better than the delivery systems we have today. Perhaps a drone emergency parachute might be a good idea.

Emergency Response Aircraft:  

How will delivery drones avoid emergency response aircraft, like life flight helicopters? As an emergency response pilot flies to pick up someone to
save their life, nearby delivery drones crossing the flight path would have to give the emergency aircraft priority to avoid collisions (especially densely populated areas)!

Would the delivery drones simply return back to the Amazon warehouse base, or would they have enough battery flight time to take a safe detour path around the accident scene?

And hey, if I don’t’ receive my package because of an air traffic jam, do I get a 30 minute delivery time guarantee from Amazon?

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Problem #2:  Air Traffic

Speaking of air traffic, today’s systems will need a complete overhaul to allow instant communication among delivery drones and conventional aircraft. To avoid mid-air collisions, Amazon has already proposed 2 levels of critical technologies to be developed:

  • One technology is called “vehicle-to-vehicle” communications (V2V), meaning all aircraft are brought together on command and control networks with an internet connection. This allows any vehicle on the network to communicate with another on the network, to create awareness and maintain separation.
  • The other technology is “sense-and-avoid” (SAA), which relies on on-board sensors to navigate around real world objects (like birds and balloons shown in the video above).
 Altitude Bands – Amazon’s “Solution”

Amazon is proposing a model defining new “altitude bands.” These altitude bands would segregate the civil airspace to below 400 ft, and keep all current aviation operations above 500 ft. A 100 ft permanent “no-fly” buffer zone would buffer the 2 major air spaces.

The civil airspace would be further divided:

  • A High Speed Transit Zone (200 ft to 400 ft).  The high speed transit zone would be reserved for designated “well-equipped” vehicles as determined by the relevant performance standards and rules (to be developed).  In other words, Amazon and other UAS delivery services carve out their own designated airspace.
  • A Low Speed Zone below 200 ft would be reserved for civilian and hobbyist radio controlled flights.

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Current US rules allow drone hobbyists to fly up to 400 ft altitude without any special permission. If this proposal becomes actual regulation, it will be interesting to see how peeved the average remote control UAV hobbyist feel about losing this much airspace to delivery services like Amazon or Google under this model.

When Will This Happen?

Presently, drone technology has outpaced current laws, and lawmakers need to catch up. Given the speed of government, nobody knows how long this will take. Until then, Amazon deliver drones will be limited to testing.

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 Problem #3:  Weight limits

Weight limits will be capped at 5 pounds. So ordering a couch by drone delivery won’t happen.  This would keep at lest some of ground parcel delivery guys and gals employed.

 Problem #4:  Service Location

The delivery drones can travel up to 15 miles.  So this means you would have to live within 7 miles of an Amazon distribution center to get this service. As drone battery technology improves, this may extend the range. This basically leaves remote or rural customers out of the service area, unless of course Amazon builds more warehouses.

Hmm, maybe in the future, Amazon would work a deal to store their inventory at Walmarts, who are already just about there!

 Problem #5:  Vandalism

The you tube comments for this video are interesting. Roughly half of them were about people wanting to either shooting down the down the drone, or steal it. One guy from the UK said due to their gun control laws, vandals would “probably just throw rocks”.  For some of us, it’s human nature to shoot something new that we don’t understand.  Like the Kentucky dad, who was arrested (and later acquitted) of shooting down a drone he thought was spying on his sunbathing teenage daughter?

is it illegal to shoot down a drone

For a minute though, let’s rise above the primal tendency to destroy, because there’s a good question here.  How will these delivery drones be safeguarded to ensure packages actually get delivered?

It makes no business sense for Amazon to fund drone delivery if they’re not returning home.

Eventually delivery drones may become so common that they blend into our daily lives like a common mail or parcel delivery truck. But until then, will the trigger happy members of the public really start downing delivery drones enough to make the service impractical?

Drone Hackers

And what about hackers? Could they hijack the navigation control signals and land them in their own yard to get the Amazon goodies inside?  You bet – in fact, hackers are already doing this, and it’s really not that hard. Who gets stuck paying for that?

Final Thoughts

I admit, the convenience of drone delivery service is really attractive.  Hey, my grandpa is 83 years old, and still drives out of principle – even though he really shouldn’t.  Bless his heart.

Believe this:  if this kind of technology helps save him a few trips to the store, while retaining his dignity, we all win!

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How soon do you think Amazon drone delivery will happen? What other problems did I miss?

Share your thoughts in the comments below!


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A Tethered UAV Solves the Biggest Problem With Drones

Tethered UAV “Unleashes” Perpetual Drone Flight Time

The major problem with using drones for aerial surveillance, mapping, or inspection is the limited battery life.  Landing every 20-30 minutes to swap out batteries is a major pain.

Though the Tesla drone under development will have up to 60 minute flight time, a Boston-based upstart has a better solution.

CyPhy works has developed an ultralight microfilament tether to allow indefinite flight time, and data transfer.  They’ve coupled it with their newest drone system, called PARC (Persistent Aerial Reconnaissance and Communications).

“It’s basically a robot with unlimited time-of-flight. You send it up and it stays there,” said Cyphy Works founder Helen Greiner at the recent EmTech 2015 conference in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

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The real secret is the ultra-light tethering cable developed by Cyphy.  Their tether is more like fishing line than a wire.  It  allows a 500 ft. flight altitude, and has an automatically controlled spooled real on the ground unit, to keep constant tension.

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Key benefits of the PARC tethered UAV system are:

  • EXTREME ENDURANCE  Ground power enables flight durations measured in days, not minutes.
  • SECURE COMMUNICATIONS  Direct connection with GCS can’t be intercepted, jammed, or spoofed
  • HIGH DEFINITION VIDEO  High quality, full frame rate, unbroken, hi-def video
  • NIGHT VISION  Combined EO/IR means no need to swap payloads when lighting changes
  • GYRO STABILIZED CAMERA GIMBAL  Clear video starts with stable video
  • 500 FEET ALTITUDE  See and communicate farther
  • FLEXIBLE POWER INPUT  Connect to generator, grid, vehicle, or other power source.
  • AUTONOMOUS OPERATION  Launch, hover, and land automatically
  • COMPUTATIONAL POWER  Vehicle has real-time access to GCS computer

Cyphy is also exploring the drone delivery market, following Google and Amazon.  Their most recent funding round of $22 million came from UPS and other venture capital firms.  They also have hobby drone models under development.

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See How MIT’s Small Drone Can Steer By Itself

Small Drone Autonomously Dodges Obstacles At 30 MPH

There are phones, and there are smart phones.

In the drone world, we’re currently in the “dumb” drone phase of technology, since drones have a habit of crashing into things.  In fact one can find a plethora of drone fail videos out there.

But if we want light-weight drones that can navigate the real world and fly quickly, then faster and better algorithms are needed.  The problem is that current sensor technology – like laser-shooting “lidar” sensors – are too heavy for small UAV aircraft.  Also, many of the current obstacle detection systems rely on an external motion-capture apparatus rather than and on-board system.

Adam Bary, a MIT student has developed a solution to this problem.  He wrote an algorithm that uses stereo vision camera sensors to detect objects up to 33 feet away, and can support 30 MPH flight speeds.

It’s simple enough to be replicated by experienced DIY drone builders, and can be build inexpensively with off-the shelf components.  In fact, his algorithm is open-source.

The test flight below shows how the UAV detects objects in red, and then maneuvers to evade a dangerous crash.

Watch the test flight, and let us know what you think!

Barry hopes to continue working on the algorithm to make the drone more robust in computing and versatile in various environments.

“As hardware advances allow for more complex computation, we will be able to search at multiple depths and therefore check and correct our estimates,” Barry says. “This lets us make our algorithms more aggressive, even in environments with larger numbers of obstacles.”

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To read more about Adam Barry’s research, you can read his 6-page research paper.

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Drone Flyover Of Tesla’s New Gigafactory

An Early Look At A Building That Could Change The World

When completed, this 5.5M sq. ft building outside Sparks Nevada will produce batteries for Tesla cars, allowing production of affordable electric cars.

Elon Musk intends for this building to propel humanity forward to sustainable transportation, by bringing the entire lithium-ion battery manufacturing process under one roof.  Battery production would start in 2017, and be up to full scale production by 2020.

Not only will it be the biggest lithium-ion producing factory on earth, but bigger than all existing Li-ion battery facilities in the world combined!

Watch the video and share what you think!

https://youtu.be/7QDApUM41js

See Tesla’s Next Generation Drone Design

The entire building will be completely powered by renewable energy via rooftop solar panels, wind turbines, and geothermal energy.  The factory is perfectly aligned with true North to maximize solar efficiency, and allow GPS placement of the internal production centers inside the building.

The roof should be completed by Feb 2016.  Solar panels will be installed later, but the white covering will keep the roof cool, and optimize solar panel efficiency.

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The Gigafactory’s electrical infrastructure reportedly cost approximately $300,000.

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The foundation alone cost an estimated $16 million, and just the steel and concrete for the buildings mezzanine cost nearly $13 million.

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Let us know what you think!

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Thanks to Tech Insider and Tesla’s gigafactory for this article!

Incredible MultiRotor Hoverboard Test Flight

Canadian Inventor Tests Breakthrough Prototype Hoverboard

What could be more fun than taking your hoverboard out on a lake in beautiful Quebec?

This prototype is the next-generation version, invented by 31-year old Alexandru Duru, who lives in Montreal.

Just last year, Duru claimed the world record for longest hoverboard flight, where he flew about 5m above a lake for 275.9 meters, on a 1.5 min flight.


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CHECK OUT THE GUINNESS WORLD RECORD FLIGHT ON THE NEXT PAGE–>

Multi-Rotor Hover Bike Will Ride Like A Motorcycle

Off Road HoverBike Will Be Available In 2017

Imagine pulling up in Sturgis with your babe on the back of this thing!

Cruise up to 10 ft above the ground, and go off roading for 75 min, without a pilots license.   For $85,000 USD, are you in?

 

The Aero-X hover bike will hit the market in 2017 allowing riders to fly over the ground. Hover vehicles are not a new idea, but none have been successful. That will change in 2017. Then, the Aero-X hovercraft will hit the market, allowing riders to fly over the ground.

The Aero-X is not designed for ground travel, and instead will fly over flat ground and hilly terrain while up to 10 feet in the air and hitting speeds up to 45 miles per hour.

It can remain in hover mode for about 75 minutes. Riders don’t need a pilot’s license to operate the vehicle. That’s because the hover bike is controlled just like a motorcycle rather than an aircraft. Operators use the lean and steer method, just like any other two wheeled contraption you see on the road.

The chief technology officer and founder of Aerofex remarked “We’ve done a lot of work to learn how to remove the coupling effect. That’s the key for someone who only has motorcycle experience to be able to get on it and feel comfortable right away.”

Comprised of a ‘light-weight carbon fiber frame’, the two seat bike comes equipped with fan blades and a trio of ‘240 horsepower three-rotor rotary engines’.

If the concept peaks your interest, be forewarned — the price for an Aero-X is going to set you back about 85 grand.

2 Ways Hackers Can Hijack Quadcopters

Design Flaws Leave Most Drones Vulnerable For Take-Over

Check out this video that demonstrates a Parrot quadcopter hijack by a malware program called MalDrone.

Despite the popularity of quadcopters these days, only a few seems to be taking into account the risks of cyber attacks.

At the recent Virus Bulletin conference in Prague, Oleg Petrovsky of HP Security Research recently detailed 2 methods that hackers can use to hijack quadcopters.  Most of these quadcopters are available as standard off-the-shelf kits on the market today.

Interestingly, these very same design flaws are being used for counter-UAV security systems, like the Falcon Shield system.


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See next page for the 2 ways to hijack quadcopters

This Intercepter Drone Could Paralyze Other Naughty Drones

Could This Idea Really Work?

Here’s an interesting idea under development:  The Rapere Intercept Drone.

This drone would specifically be designed to automatically target other drones via scanning cameras, hover above them, and deploy a rotor tangling string to knock them out of the sky.  Potential customers would be celebrities wishing to thwart paparazzi,  business owners requiring tighter security, or anyone seeking privacy.

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The design group claims to be commercial drone developers with many years of UAV experience, and are designing the drone to be faster and more agile than many of the “voyeur-type” drones on the market.  (no way it would catch one of these racers, or a Charpu QAV250)

Other counter UAV (C-UAV) technologies under development are Boeing’s Laser cannon, and Silex-ES (a UK defense company).

Read the FAQ below from the developer’s website

Why?

Having worked in the UAS industry for years, we’ve collectively never come across any bogus use of drones. However it’s inevitable that will happen, and for people such as celebrities, where there is profit to be made in illegally invading their privacy, there should be an option to thwart it.

How is it used?

It sits permanently on it’s charging base, indoors, until ready to deploy. Simply take it outside, put it on the ground, and press the GO button. The Rapere will take off, while at the same time scanning the sky for drones. It can tell the difference between a bird and a drone, and will fly over top of any drone within range, then disable it.

After the target drone is disabled, it will return to base and land, where you can add a new tangle-line for a second flight.

How does it work?

Lots of (12) high framerate (90 fps) moderately low res cameras (VGA) pointing in every direction, with structure from motion being used to guide the drone to it’s target – hovering above the free floating target drone. Fortunately for us detecting a free floating object which is well illuminated and far from any other visible object is easy. We can burn lots of watts on the onboard computer, because of the short flight time. This is difficult on normal UAS.

When will it be available?

Not sure. We are in talks about mass production, while continuing to develop the product. This also depends on the volume of interest, so please sign up to our mailing list and boost the numbers!

How much will it cost?

It won’t be cheap like a DJI type drone. It will be priced as a professional tool – we don’t want this to become a toy people can use to disrupt legitimate drone use.

What type of drones can it intercept?

Any ‘rotary wing’ like a quadcopter. It isn’t fast enough to catch circling fixed wing drones, yet. We designed it primarily to intercept the type of drones used by paparazzi or voyeurs flying over private residence.

Can the target drone evade interception?

We’ve been having great fun trying, but the answer is ‘not really’. Because of the intentionally designed short flight time (2 mins, vs a normal drone 15 minutes) we can drain the batteries much faster, and have a much higher power to weight ratio. With a flight time of 2 minutes, this is the best performing drone we can imagine from a flight performance point of view. It’s even hard to see it once it’s a few hundred feet up because it’s so fast.

Who are the people behind this?

We are commercial drone developers who teamed up with some computer vision experts to enable the device to ‘see’ and fly itself. Right now we are flying under the radar for commercial reasons, but all will be revealed in time.

To read more, check out the rapere website

Tesla’s Next Generation Drone Design

Tackles Battery Life Issues & Eliminates Gimbal

Check out this drone design from Tesla.  

The designer is 21-year old Frasier Leid from South Africa, who is inspired by Tesla advances in battery technology.

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The design offers 2 main advantages over today’s typical multirotor / quadcopter :

  • Battery:  10,000 mAh Tesla Powercell to support flight time of around 60 minutes, and recharge in 20 minutes.
  • Stability:  Dual-prop design would eliminate need for a Gimbal camera stabalizer.  Increased flight stability would come from ability to switch between vertical configuration (for slow camera shots) or horizontal configuration (for faster, agile shots).

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2 Other Interesting Features:

Docking stand incorporating wireless charging (classic Tesla)

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30 Megapixel Camera with 4k video recording

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Overall, very interesting design, but will it work?  We’ll be on the lookout for more about this!

Article & images thanks to Behance (Click to Read More)

Free Aerial Mapping Software For Drones Goes Live

Get 3D Maps From Your Aerial Images

Aerial surveying is being rocketed into the future with this latest software from DroneDeploy, a tech company based in Silicon Valley.  Now, anyone with a drone equipped camera can upload their aerial imagery online, and Drone Deploy will create a 3D maps and models stored in a cloud.

This application has huge potential for construction, surveying, mining, and agriculture industries.  The software is also available in 120 countries.

Read the article below and let us know what you think

DroneDeploy, a Silicon Valley tech company that provides cloud–based aerial mapping software for commercial drone operations, announced today that they’ve made their software available for free to anyone in over 120 countries, providing users with the fastest solution available to automate their drones and receive detailed aerial maps and 3D models.

In addition to providing free, browser­based map creation software, the company announced a new feature called Map Engine, a way for businesses to easily create maps with any drone—regardless of manufacturer.

According to CEO Mike Winn, Map Engine was the logical next step for DroneDeploy. “In the past, DroneDeploy hasn’t been easily accessible to anyone with any drone,” said Winn. “That changes today. Map Engine is a way for any drone owner to create maps and 3D models by just uploading their data into DroneDeploy. And like the rest of DroneDeploy, it’s really simple and really fast, delivering most maps in under two hours.”

Users just need to upload aerial imagery into Map Engine and DroneDeploy’s servers handle the rest—producing fast maps and 3D models, stored in the cloud. “Needless to say, we’re really excited to get our mapping technology into more people’s hands and continue raising the bar in this industry,” touted Winn. “We have hundreds of users from all over the world that are extremely vocal about the ROI they’ve achieved with DroneDeploy.

Click here to continue reading the article.

Click here to get DroneDeploy map engine software, or download from Google Play

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