It's already been three years since Amazon first revealed its somewhat audacious plan to make deliveries by drone. But the company is quite serious about this, and today it is announcing that it complete the first Amazon Prime Air drone-powered delivery. The company recently launched a trial in Cambridge, England -- and on December 7th, Amazon completed its first drone-powered delivery. It took 13 minutes from order to delivery, with the drone departing a custom-built fulfillment center nearby. Amazon's video about the project says that it's only servicing a few customers in the area right now, but will soon be open to dozens more who live within a few miles of the Cambridge fulfillment center.
From crop dusting to package delivery, commercial drones are about to become a part of everyday life. "Just in the last 18 months, we've registered twice as many unmanned aircraft (as) we registered all aircraft from the previous 100 years," said Earl Lawrence, director of the Federal Aviation Administration's Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration Office. To safely integrate the vast numbers of new unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) into the nation's airspace, the FAA is relying on a group of 23 research institutions led by Mississippi State University. The Alliance for System Safety of UAS through Research Excellence (ASSURE) is conducting in-depth studies on virtually every aspect of drone operations, including air traffic control, pilot certification and crash avoidance. "What happens when a drone hits a wing or a windshield or any other part of the aircraft is (one) of our key questions," Lawrence said.
If you're interested in drone deliveries, it's likely because you want your internet shopping dropped at your door within an hour of clicking "buy." And while companies like Amazon are working to make that happen, complicated logistics and thorny regulations mean it's likely to be years before you start hearing the whir of rotors on your front porch. Yet drones are already proving their worth with more urgent, medical, missions. The latest of these comes from Silicon Valley startup Matternet, which has been testing an autonomous drone network over Switzerland, shuttling blood and other medical samples between hospitals and testing facilities. "We have a vision of a distributed network, not hub and spoke, but true peer-to-peer," says Matternet CEO Andreas Raptopoulos.
Delivery by drone may be legal within two years. Just don't expect many pizzas or packages to wing their way through your neighborhood by then. Despite huge interest in unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), and considerable hype around the idea of using them to deliver goods, experts say significant challenges still need to be solved for drone delivery to get off the ground. Google and Amazon are leading the development of delivery drones, while UPS, FedEx, and a host of startups are also researching the technology. Earlier this month, the U.S. Senate Transportation Committee drafted a bill that paves the way for regulation of delivery drones within two years.
San Leandro-based Airspace Systems is making a business out of solving the toughest problems facing the emerging drone industry. The company designed a drone of its own, jam-packed with sensors and machine intelligence, to autonomously intercept threatening drones at high speeds and carry them away from large crowds. If you think this sounds difficult, you would be right. The company employs myriad technologies for its unmanned flying dogfighters that include computer vision, physics and some pretty serious engineering grit. To not only detect enemy drones, but predict where they will be in the future, CTO Guy Bar-Nahum, and a team of machine learning and computer vision experts, devised a creative method of training their machine learning frameworks using simulated test-flights.