A first look at Amazon’s new delivery drone

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Nearly a decade after Jeff Bezos first announced drone delivery, Amazon says it’s finally ready to start air-dropping packages — literally.

The latest drone model will drop packages from 12 feet in the air.

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“If the drone encounters another aircraft when it’s flying, it’ll fly around that other aircraft. If, when it gets to its delivery location, your dog runs underneath the drone, we won’t deliver the package,” said Calsee Hendrickson, who leads product and program management for the Prime Air drone program.

Hendrickson gave CNBC a first look at the drone, the MK27-2, on Thursday. She said it will start making deliveries in Lockeford, California, and College Station, Texas, by the end of 2022. Some residents in the small rural town of Lockeford have expressed concerns about privacy and safety. Amazon insists the drones are safe.

“We like to refer to the drone as being independently safe, which means that it has the power to make the decision. It saw something that had a heat signature underneath the drone and was able to not deliver a package and return back to the station. But the drones do have an operator in command that is overseeing the entire airspace,” Hendrickson said.

The drone is about five-and-a-half feet in diameter and weighs 80 pounds, according to Hendrickson. It can only carry packages weighing less than five pounds, and deliveries must fit in one box about the size of a shoe box.

An Amazon drone operator loads the single shoebox-size box that can fit inside its MK27-2 Prime Air drone

Amazon

The box is loaded into the back and secured inside, then the drone takes off vertically, similar to a helicopter, using six propellers. Once in the air, it rotates into a forward position and the hexagon surrounding the drone serves as its wings. Hendrickson said it flies at about 50mph. Once at the delivery location, it descends vertically, scans the area to make sure it’s clear, then drops the box from a hover 12 feet above the ground.

The drone can fly 12 kilometers roundtrip, and is fully autonomous. The drone needs ample clear space beneath it to drop the box.

Amazon says thousands of items are eligible for drone delivery, a small percentage of the vast assortment available on its marketplace.

“We’ve made sure that all of those products are both capable of being okay when they are delivered, and our packaging, which is displayed behind me as well, is a special packaging that ensures that the integrity of the product is still intact after the delivery,” Hendrickson said.

Prime Air has been slow-going since it started testing in 2013. It made a single drone delivery in 2016 but has reportedly hit major setbacks since, such as high turnover and crashes.

It reached a key milestone in August 2020 when the Federal Aviation Administration gave Amazon approval to operate the drones.

On Thursday, Amazon also announced the next model, the MK30, which it says will launch in 2024.

Amazon says the MK30 is smaller, will be 25% less noisy than the MK27-2, and will be able to fly in light rain.

Amazon’s David Carbon, VP of Prime Air, unveiled its next drone model, the MK30 in Westborough, Massachusetts, on November 10, 2022.

Erin Black

Correction: This story has been updated to reflect the correct height of the package drop, and to clarify customers don’t need to be home for a drone delivery.



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