Amazon lays out a way to guide deliveries with AR

Augmented reality for deliveries

A schematic shows how information about a delivery drop-off location might be overlaid on the display of an augmented-reality headset. (Amazon Illustration via USPTO)

Efficient package delivery is one of the keystones of Amazon’s retailing business, and a newly issued patent opens up a new frontier in efficiency: augmented reality.

The patent, published today, outlines a scheme for alerting a delivery agent about the best times to make a delivery, the best routes to take and even the best places for parking — all overlaid on the agent’s AR headset.

Why do it, in this age of navigation apps?

“Experienced delivery agents often learn information about the delivery routes and delivery areas that is not reflected in a delivery route generated by a routing application,” Amazon inventor Robert Niewiadomski writes in his application, filed back in 2016.

Such lore can include gate codes, the precise location of the preferred delivery entrance and “the most efficient or best places to park when making a delivery to a destination or a group of destinations,” Niewiadomski notes.

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Spaceflight will get first crack at India’s next rocket

PSLV rocket

India’s Small Satellite Launch Vehicle will be smaller than its workhorse Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle, shown here on its launch pad at the Satish Dhawan Space Center. (ISRO Photo)

Seattle-based Spaceflight says it’s purchased the first commercial launch of India’s next-generation Small Satellite Launch Vehicle, or SSLV, and has already committed all of the available payload space to a U.S.-based satellite constellation customer.

The deal, announced today in conjunction with the annual SmallSat conference in Logan, Utah, builds on Spaceflight’s existing relationship with the Indian Space Research Organization and India-based commercial ventures.

ISRO developed the SSLV with a payload capacity of 500 kilograms (1,100 pounds) to mid-inclination low Earth orbit, or LEO, and 300 kilograms (660 pounds) to sun-synchronous orbit. That’s more suited for launching small satellites than India’s workhorse Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle, or PSLV, which can put 1,100 to 1,600 kilograms (2,425 to 3,500 pounds) into sun-synchronous orbit and has served as a go-to rocket for Spaceflight.

The SSLV launch was purchased from New Space India Limited, or NSIL, and is due for liftoff from India’s Satish Dhawan Space Center later this year.

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‘Terminator Tape’ will fight orbital debris

Terminator Tape

One version of the Terminator Tape system is designed to be integrated onto a 4-inch-wide CubeSat. A dime is included in the picture for a size comparison. (Tethers Unlimited Photo)

Bothell, Wash.-based Tethers Unlimited will have its technology for deorbiting space debris put to its most ambitious test next year, during a satellite mission that will be conducted in league with TriSept Corp.Millennium Space Systems and Rocket Lab.

The technology, known as Terminator Tape, involves placing a module on a small satellite that can unwind a stretch of electrically conductive tape when it’s time to dispose of the satellite.

“This tape will significantly increase the aerodynamic cross-section of the satellite, enhancing the drag it experiences due to neutral particles,” Tethers Unlimited says in an online explainer. “In addition, the motion of this tape across the Earth’s magnetic field will induce a voltage along the tape. This voltage will drive a current to flow up the tape, with electrons collected from the conducting ionospheric plasma at the top of the tape and ions collected at the bottom. This current will induce a ‘passive electrodynamic’ drag force on the tape.”

The increased drag should dramatically shorten the timetable for dragging a satellite down to its fiery atmospheric re-entry.

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Amazon wants to test mobile broadband devices

Motorola CBRS application

Motorola is already experimenting with CBRS technology, which could be applied to broadband workplace communications. Now Amazon wants to test CBRS systems as well. (Motorola Photo)

Amazon is seeking the Federal Communications Commission’s approval for a six-month test of mobile radio devices and networking software – but not at its Seattle home base.

The experiment with Citizens Broadband Radio Service, or CBRS, would take place in Sunnyvale, Calif. That’s the Silicon Valley city where Amazon’s Lab126 product development subsidiary is headquartered. Lab126 played a key role in creating devices such as Amazon’s Kindle ebook readers and Kindle Fire tablets (as well as the not-so-successful Kindle Fire phones).

CBRS uses a slice of the electromagnetic spectrum that was originally set aside for U.S. government communications. Four years ago, the FCC began a process to open up the spectrum – ranging from 3550 to 3700 MHz in the 3.5 GHz band – for sharing with commercial users for wireless broadband applications.

The CBRS band is expected to be easier to use than other parts of the spectrum. It could enable local data transmission at speeds that are better than Wi-Fi, and should play well with 5G.

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The satellite rideshare market is heating up

SpaceX smallsat launch

Artist’s conception shows a SpaceX rocket deploying a satellite carrier in orbit. (SpaceX Illustration)

Seattle-based Spaceflight has made a name for itself by putting together bunches of small satellites for launch on someone else’s rockets, but now the owners of some of those rockets are aiming to take the business for themselves.

The promise and the perils of the dedicated-rideshare launch business came into the spotlight today in Logan, Utah, at the annual AIAA / Utah State University Conference on Small Satellites, better known as SmallSat.

On the plus side, Spaceflight announced that it’s getting ready for the second of several rideshare launches from New Zealand on Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket. The mission, dubbed “Look Ma, No Hands,” is due to put three satellites into orbit for Spaceflight’s customers during a launch opportunity that opens Aug. 16.

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Jeff Bezos touts full-power rocket engine test

Blue Origin engine test

Blue Origin’s BE-4 rocket engine fires at full power during a test in Texas. (Blue Origin Photo)

Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos is showing off a picture of his Blue Origin space venture’s BE-4 rocket engine going full blast during a hot-fire test in Texas.

“BE-4 continues to rack up time on the test stand,” Bezos said in an Instagram post accompanied by a picture of today’s full-power engine test.

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Echodyne plays a role in a pioneering drone test

Alaska drone flight

A Skyfront Perimeter drone takes off from the Alyeska trans-Alaska pipeline right of way near Fox for a milestone flight beyond the operator’s visual line of sight. The drone flew 3.87 miles along the pipeline corridor. (University of Alaska Photo / Sean Tevebaugh)

A public-private consortium led by the University of Alaska has conducted the first-ever federally authorized test flight of a drone beyond the operator’s line of sight without on-the-ground observers keeping watch – with Echodyne, the radar venture that’s backed by Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and headquartered in Kirkland, Wash., playing a supporting role.

Autonomous flight beyond visual line of sight will be key to the kinds of drone delivery operations envisioned by Amazon, Walmart and other retailers.

During the July 31 flight, a Skyfront Perimeter multirotor drone inspected a 3.87-mile stretch of Trans-Alaska Pipeline infrastructure as part of the University of Alaska’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration Pilot Program, one of 10 such programs that won approval from the Federal Aviation Administration last year.

The big thing about this flight is that the drone made use of Iris Automation’s Casia onboard detect-and-avoid system, paired up with Echodyne’s ground-based MESA airspace management radar system, without having a human on the route.

Current FAA regulations limit drone flights to the operator’s visual line of sight. Pilot projects have been experimenting with technologies that can ensure safe operations beyond the visual line of sight, known as BVLOS. But until now, the FAA’s waivers still required a ground-based observer to look out for non-cooperative aircraft coming into the test area.

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