independent

Saturday 19 April 2014

Amazon develops delivery drones

Online giant Amazon is considering using drone aircraft for deliveries in the US.

It is developing a "Prime Air" unmanned aircraft project but says it will take years to advance the technology and for the US aviation authorities to create the necessary rules and regulations.

Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos said that while the mini copters look like science fiction, there is no reason they cannot be used as delivery vehicles.

He said they can carry parcels up to 5lbs, which covers almost 90% of the items Amazon delivers. The drones have a range of about 10 miles which he said could cover a significant portion of the urban population.

One of the biggest promises for civilian drone use has been in agriculture.

The unmanned aircraft can fly over large fields and search out bugs, rodents and other animals that might harm crops. Then, using GPS, another drone could spread pesticide on that small area of the field.

Agriculture is also seen as the most-promising use because of the industry's largely unpopulated, wide open spaces. Delivering Amazon packages in central Manhattan will be much trickier.

Besides regulatory approval, Amazon's biggest challenge will be to develop a collision avoidance system, said Darryl Jenkins, a consultant who specialises in drones.

He said key questions included who is to blame if the drone hits a bird, crashes into a building? And who is going to insure the deliveries?

There are also technical questions. Who will recharge the drone batteries? How many deliveries can the machines make before needing service?

"Jeff Bezos might be the single person in the universe who could make something like this happen," Mr Jenkins said. "For what it worth, this is a guy who's totally changed retailing."

-AP

Press Association

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