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Reporter hunts for Amazon’s drones in Britain

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Amazon is expanding its drone testing operation in the English countryside, to smooth the way for what it hopes will be an aerial package delivery system. But exactly where are the tests taking place?

Based on clues from the BBC, plus interviews with local sources, Business Insider’s Sam Shead went out to farm fields southeast of Cambridge, near a place called Worsted Lodge.

In one of the fields, he found two bases that were located at each end of the acreage, about 400 meters (a quarter-mile) apart. Next to each of the bases, there were apparent landing spots made from patches of artificial grass.

The locale is near Amazon’s research and development center in Cambridge, which would make it handy for drone testing teams. But there’s at least one piece of evidence that’s missing: No drones were spotted.

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Amazon provides a peek at delivery drone design

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A figure from Amazon’s patent application shows how a delivery drone’s rotors would be encased in a protective shroud. (Credit: Amazon via USPTO)

A newly published patent application almost literally delves into the nuts and bolts of the package-delivering drones that Amazon is developing – but it also makes clear that the look of the drones could vary, depending on where and how they’re being used.

The proposed designs include quadcopters and octocopters, drones with motors as wide as 18 inches that are mounted vertically to push the craft and its cargo through the air, and drones with fixed wings that extend well beyond the craft’s protective shroud.

That safety shroud is the common thread in all of the described designs.

The application was filed in December 2014 by Gur Kimchi and Rick Welsh, two of the lead engineers for Amazon Prime Air, but published by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office only last week.

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Photos: Amazon One wows the Seafair crowd

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Amazon’s first “Prime Air” cargo jet soars over Seafair. (Credit: Scott Eklund / Red Box Pictures)

Amazon’s first branded cargo jet made its daylight debut today at Seattle’s Boeing Seafair Air Show, but not before show announcer Mark Christopher drummed up a bit of drama.

As the program got under way, Christopher drew the attention of hundreds of spectators to a white dot approaching from the north. “It seems like a normal jet, but this is about to make history,” he said.

Then, as Seafair fans made out the Prime Air lettering on the side of the Boeing 767-300 jet, and the Amazon smile logo painted on its tail, the announcer made the formal introduction.

“Flying for the first time is Amazon One!” Christopher boomed as the plane buzzed past, just 500 feet above Lake Washington.

Check out all the pictures on GeekWire.

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Amazon Prime Air jet makes stealthy debut

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Amazon’s first branded freighter jet sits inside a Boeing hangar. (GeekWire photo by Kevin Lisota)

The first freighter jet to carry the Amazon brand is primed for its public debut in Seafair’s sunny skies, after making a stealthy flight from New York to Seattle in the middle of the night.

“It’s hard for me not to be a little bit giddy, almost. This is the first time I’ve actually seen the plane in person,” Dave Clark, Amazon’s senior vice president of worldwide operations, said at a press preview that took place behind closed hangar doors at the Boeing Co.’s Seattle Delivery Center on Aug. 4.

The plane, emblazoned with “Amazon” on its belly, “Prime Air” on its sides and the Amazon smile logo on its tail, will fly over Lake Washington during the Boeing Seafair Air Show at around 1:15 p.m. Aug. 5 through 7. Until now, the big reveal was kept so hush-hush that Seafair organizers referred to the event only as a “Special Guest Flyover.”

The Boeing 767-300 jet is part of what will eventually become a fleet of 40 planes, transporting cargo between Amazon’s distribution centers for delivery to customers. Clark said the planes will mesh with Amazon’s network of 4,000 branded truck trailers, the Uber-like Amazon Flex delivery system, and the services provided by transportation partners such as UPS and FedEx.

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Less ugh, more yay on Amazon Prime Day

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Cute kitten or Exploding Kittens on Amazon Prime Day? You decide. (Credit: Amazon via Twitter)

Amazon says its second annual Prime Day outdid the first one on the sales front – and although some Twitter users reported “Add to Cart” fails, the social-media metrics for Tuesday’s shopping extravaganza showed improvement as well.

At least that’s the verdict from Adobe Digital Insights, which cites figures that are at least as solid as Amazon’s sales report. The assessment is based on more than 4 million blips that were aggregated from blogs, Twitter, Instagram, WordPress, Reddit, Foursquare and other sources in July 2015 and July 2016.

Check out the five top takeaways on GeekWire.

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Amazon’s drone plan leaves issues up in the air

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One of the Amazon Prime Air prototypes has horizontal and vertical rotors. (Amazon photo)

How much will it cost to get a 30-minute drone delivery from Amazon Prime Air? A newly published interview with Amazon executive Paul Misener suggests that the pricing question and other key issues have yet to be figured out.

In the interview with Yahoo Tech columnist David Pogue, Amazon’s vice president for global public policy provides a detailed run-through of the Seattle-based online retailer’s plan for aerial delivery dominance.

Many of the details have been laid out before. Others appear to remain up in the air.

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Amazon drone’s future is up in the air

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Amazon shows off a prototype drone that’s just made a test delivery of a shoebox in someone’s backyard. (Credit: Amazon via YouTube)

The hybrid drone design that Amazon unveiled over the weekend may be only one of several under consideration for delivering packages in 30 minutes or less, but it’s a doozy: The beefed-up Prime Air flier pushes the envelope on technical as well as regulatory grounds.

On the technical side, the prototype shown in Amazon’s video uses an array of rotors (eight, according to The Guardian) to take off vertically, then switches on an additional rotor to buzz through the air horizontally at up to 60 mph. The Guardian says it may be the first vertical-horizontal hybrid air vehicle to weigh in at less than 55 pounds, which is the upper limit for commercial delivery drones.

An autonomous sense-and-avoid navigation system keeps the drone from running into other objects on the way to its destination, at an altitude of up to 400 feet. Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology showed off a sense-and-avoid system last month, but that one was designed to handle obstacles at a mere 30 mph – half the speed that’s built into Amazon’s specs.

The drone is also apparently designed to home in on a landing pad, perhaps equipped with an RFID tag or transmitter. The idea is that customers would lay out the pad in their backyard or some other open space in preparation for package delivery. (Can you buy a pad like that on Amazon yet? What if it’s raining, or if you’re an apartment dweller?)

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Amazon gets two spots on drone task force

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Amazon Prime Air is developing drones that could be used for deliveries. (Amazon photo)

The Federal Aviation Administration says the task force charged with drawing up recommendations for registering recreational drones includes two Amazon representatives: Sean Cassidy, a former Alaska Airlines pilot who’s working on the Amazon Prime Air drone venture; and Ben Gielow, who’s a senior manager for public policy at Amazon.

In today’s announcement detailing the task force’s membership, the FAA said the group’s co-chairs are Dave Vos of GoogleX and Earl Lawrence, director of the FAA’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration Office.

Other task force members include Walmart’s Thomas Head, Best Buy’s Parker Brugge and GoPro’s Tony Bates, as well as representatives of drone manufacturers and operators, aviation associations, surveyors and the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

Amazon and Walmart are both working on drone delivery systems. GoogleX, which has served as Google’s think tank, is looking into commercial drones as well. Such operations, however, would be covered by a different set of regulations that’s working its way through the FAA system.

The task force is charged with suggesting a system for registering recreational drones by Nov. 20. The group is due to convene formally for the first time next Tuesday, the FAA said.  Public comments are being taken through Nov. 6.

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Boeing’s CEO lists Amazon as rival (or partner)

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Boeing’s Dennis Muilenburg addresses the SAE 2015 AeroTech Congress. (Credit: Alan Boyle)

Two months into his job as the Boeing Co.’s president and CEO, Dennis Muilenburg says Amazon and Facebook are emerging as competitors in the aerospace industry, due to their plans to develop drones for package deliveries and Internet services.

But they could also emerge as business partners, Muilenburg said Tuesday during his keynote address at this week’s SAE 2015 AeroTech Congress and Exhibition in Seattle.

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