Amazon unveiled the latest version of its long-awaited drone-delivery system on Wednesday, The Verge reports, showing off a new aircraft that they say is the safest and most technologically-advanced delivery drone in the industry. Meanwhile, six years since Amazon first started talking about delivery drones revolutionizing the industry, customers are still not routinely getting their packages delivered to them by drone, and there’s no word on when, or even if, that’s going to become commonplace.
The newest incarnation of the Prime Air Delivery Drone hopes to skirt most of the issues that have kept drone-based delivery from getting off the ground, such as maneuverability as well as safety for other aircraft in the air and for people, animals, and vehicles on the ground.
For example, on the safety side, the device will have covers over the blades, making them safe for curious pets or children, or birds that might cross paths with the devices. They’re also equipped with infrared, sonar, and a handful of other features that will protect it against “paragliders, power lines, [and] the corgi in your backyard,” says Jeff Wilke.
On the tech side, there are features that consumers won’t necessarily care about, but that make the drones the envy of the drone industry. Combining features of drones and more traditional aircraft, it’s capable of vertical takeoff as well as extended, stable, and level flight. It can move within six degrees of movement, as opposed to four, like traditional drones.
Despite these advances in technology, it remains unclear, as of this writing, when or even if this newest Amazon delivery drone is going to be deployed. Wilke promises that the program will be up and running “in the coming months,” though he didn’t give specifics.
However, Amazon has been promising drone-based delivery since at least 2013, and in those six years, exactly one U.S.-based customer has gotten a package delivered via drone. What’s more, that delivery was intended as a publicity stunt and not an actual routine delivery.
Besides the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) paperwork hassles and safety concerns, there are practical limitations as well. The drones can only carry a payload of a few pounds, which isn’t as big of a problem as it would seem because Amazon says that 75-90 percent of its deliveries weigh less than five pounds.
The biggest limitation, however, is one of geography. The drones have a range of only 15 miles, which means that any customer expecting an Amazon purchase to be delivered via drone would have to live within 15 miles of an Amazon warehouse.