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?

amazon prime drones

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.

amazon drone service

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.

private drone regulations

 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!

olddriver

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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Avoid Scams: FAA UAV Regulations Will Be Easy To Register

FAA UAV regulations

FAA Says Drone Registration Will Be Kept Simple

FAA UAV Regulations Update:  The US government task force in charge of regulating small UAV’s will release plans later this week for drone registration in the United States.

Meanwhile, 3rd party websites are already advertising they will register your hobby drone on your behalf for $25 fee.

In response, the FAA cautions drone owners about using 3rd party drone registration companies, because the process will be no more difficult than registering any other product.

Read the AP article below

The government says requirements to register drones will be simple enough that owners will not need to pay a “drone registration” company to do it for them. Some websites are advertising that they will register a drone for a $25 fee. The Federal Aviation Administration said on Monday that drone owners should “think twice” before using a registration company, since the process will be no more difficult than registering any other product. The government plans to require that most owners register drones so that they can be identified if they crash or are caught flying where they should not. A government task force is expected to release plans this week on registration.

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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.

tethered uav

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 “Secretive” Apple Spaceship Campus

Apple spaceship campus

Progress Flight Over Apple Campus #2 Construction

Hey guys!  Check out the steady progress of the new Apple Campus 2, currently under construction.

You can see why they call it the Apple Spaceship Campus!

Watch the September 2015 progress video, narrated by Steve Jobs

Some Quick Facts:

  • Location:  Cupertino, California
  • Employ 12,000 people
  • 2.8 million square feet ring building (The Pentagon is 3.7M SF; currently the world’s largest office building)
  • 100,000 square foot fitness center
  • 120,000 undergound auditorium for hosting events
  • Scheduled to be completed at end 2016
  • Hundreds of trees and orchards will adorn the campus (apples maybe!?)
  • Central garden inside the ring

Aligning with Apple’s “tight-security” directives, the entire campus will be surrounded by earth-berm banks which obstruct views from the adjacent community.  However, the campus will contain a visitor’s center, complete with a cafe, observation deck, and an Apple store (of course!).

Watch the updated Set-Oct progressvideo

Update:  In San Jose, Apple is securing a development agreement for a plot of land that could hold a 4.15 million square foot campus!   As if the 2.8 Million Apple Spaceship Campus wasn’t big enough!

Thanks to UAV pilot Duncan Sinfiel for these flyovers!

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You’ve Probably Never Seen Istanbul Like This

Incredible Aerial View of Istanbul From A Drone

Istanbul is the 5th most visited city in the world today, with over 12 million visitors in 2015.  But how many have seen it like this?  These are some incredible views, shot with a DJI Phantom 3 quadcopter.

See if you can spot these famous landmarks in the video below.

1. The Hagia Sophia Museum was originally built as a church in the 6th century by the Justinian the Great.  It was once used as a mosque, but now is a museum.

631px-Turkey-3019_-_Hagia_Sophia_(2216460729)

2.  The Bosphrus waterway is one of the busiest in the world.  It’s the only route between the oil-rich Black Sea and the Mediterranean.  Over 200 million tons of oil are shipped through this channel each year.

640px-Ships_under_Second_Bosphorus_Bridge_(September_2011)

3.  Maiden’s Tower  is located at the south entrance of the Bosphorus waterway, and has a history dating back to ancient times.  It was used as a strategic defense tower, watch tower, lighthouse, barracks, and quarantine station. In modern times, it was used in the 1998 James Bond movie “The World Is Not Enough”.  Now, it’s a popular restaurant.

640px-Maidens_Tower

 

Can you spot these landmarks in this video?

Special thanks to Adem Duvan for this awesome video – see his you tube channel for more cool videos.


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image 1 source: “Turkey-3019 – Hagia Sophia (2216460729)” by Dennis Jarvis from Halifax, Canada – Turkey-3019 – Hagia SophiaUploaded by russavia. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Commons.

Image 2 source: “Ships under Second Bosphorus Bridge (September 2011)” by TariqabjotuOwn work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons.

Image 3 source: “Maidens Tower“. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 via Commons.

Drone Camera Reveals Alarming Greenland Ice Melt

Up Close View Of Earth’s Climate Change From Drone Camera

There is very little on-the-ground data that researchers have to show how fast the earth’s polar ice melt is happening.

This mission of this recent expedition was to collect actual data to help scientists better understand how fast the ice is melting, and predict rising sea levels.

While there, NY Times staff member Josh Haner was able to capture this beautiful, and terrifying footage of the ice melt with his drone camera.

INSIDER-DRONE-HANER-articleLarge

Part of this drone video was used as an exciting interactive online feature that shows the melting of earth’s the largest ice chunk.

The cold temperatures limited the drone’s batteries to about 8 minutes flight time, so the flight had to be very carefully planned.

Also, the brittle nature of the ice made it too dangerous to recover the drone if it crashed!

Watch the video if the ice melt below, and share what you think about this!

See the crash landing of the drone on the next page–>


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All 5 Shark Tank Investors Are Now In The Drone Business

2 Drone Guys Get Rare Backing Of All Shark Tank Investors

When was the last time all the Shark Tank Investors backed an investment?  It rarely happens, but these 2 drone guys pulled it off.  Not only that, they even got more money than they asked for!

Watch the Sharks take the bait!

Xcraft is the Company, and they make the XPlusOne UAV, which is a hybrid between a quadcopter and an airplane.

Xcraft also has a new product in development that turns a smartphone into a drone, and it’s called the “Phone drone”.  After this episode of the shark tank aired, the funding goal for the drone phone kickstart was met in just 1 hour!

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Drone Video Of A Light Bulb Change 1500′ Up

Could You Do This Job For A Living?

Driving past tall towers in my car, I always wondered what it would be like to climb one of those.  After seeing this, I’m glad I don’t have to!

On this clear fall day, Kevin Schmidt climbed a 1500 ft. TV tower located about 30 miles west of Sioux Falls, South Dakota.  Fellow UAV pilot Joesiph Thorin from Prarie Aerial was there to capture some great video of Kevin’s amazing climb!

Note: Remember, kids be safe by NOT attempting this.  Special permission is needed for high altitude quadcopter flights above 400 ft.

Watch the video below, and let us know what you think!

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The Worst Quadcopter Advert Ever

What Did I Just See?

This quadcopter video advert seems to miss on so many levels.  But as a red-blooded man, I confess it’s incredibly hard to look away!

It appeals to the base instincts of men: speed, explosions, sex, and rock and roll.  From the guy groaning “Yes Yes Yes”, to the hot chick firing an automatic gun, to the atomic bomb… it’s got it all.

After watching this, I picked up my jaw off the floor and wondered what I had just seen here!?  Can this really be a legitimate quadcopter ad for the Walkera Runner 250!?  It sure is – check out Walkera’s YouTube channel!

One thing is for sure – my wallet is going in one of those under shirt pouches when flying FPV from now on!  Sheesh!