Amazon introduces new delivery drone

Earlier this year, the sky looked bleak for Amazon Prime Air’s drone program, which was marred by crashes and other glitches. But in the months since, the e-commerce giant has launched commercial delivery services in Lockeford, California, and College Station, Texas — and now a new drone.

Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) on Thursday gave customers a first look at a model called the MK30, which is expected to enter service in 2024. The new design is smaller, lighter and more durable than the company’s MK27-2 drone, the one making deliveries at Lockeford and College Station.

Not only is the MK30 more compact and lighter than the MK27-2, but it also has a longer range and greater tolerance to extreme heat and cold. Notably, it can also fly in the rain, which the company’s previous model couldn’t do.

The MK30 will retain Amazon’s familiar hexagonal shape, but new custom propellers will reduce perceived noise by 25%. It will also feature the MK27-2’s Sense and Avoid system, which will help the drone navigate around people, pets and other obstacles.

A 3D rendering shows Amazon’s new MK30 drone. (Image: Amazon)

“The MK30’s longer range, expanded temperature tolerance, safety-critical features and new ability to fly in light rain will allow customers to choose drone delivery more often,” the company wrote in a blog post.

Amazon didn’t say how far the new model will fly, how much it can carry, or how temperature resistant it will be. For comparison, the MK27-2 has a maximum payload of about 5 pounds and can travel at a top speed of about 80 km/h. It currently flies within a 3-mile radius of Amazon’s facilities in California and Texas.

All of this information should be made available once the MK30 has been evaluated by the Federal Aviation Administration.

“While it is impossible to eliminate all risks of flying, we have taken a proven aerospace approach to build safety into our system. As always, our latest drone undergoes rigorous evaluation by national aerospace agencies such as the Federal Aviation Administration to prove its safety and reliability,” Amazon wrote.

Amazon’s MK30 drone being tested in the wind tunnel. (Photo: Amazon)

In the past, the testing phase was the main factor blocking Amazon’s trajectory. A series of crashes, including a fiery impact in Oregon that started a bushfire in March, have hampered development of the drone program — even as late as July.

The FAA will be aware of these incidents, and Amazon will need to bypass agency scrutiny to get its new model off the ground, so to speak.

David Carbon, vice president of Amazon Prime Air, said this week that the company is “looking at a proven, targeted level of safety that is validated by regulators and is many times safer than driving to the store.”

Carbon has also set an ambitious goal of delivering 500 million packages per year by drone by the end of the decade. For context, competitor Wing, which belongs to Alphabet, operates a more robust commercial service with operations in the US, Finland, and Australia — yet after more than a year of service, it just hit the 250,000 shipments milestone.

Observe: Drone mailboxes and city-wide drone networks are on the horizon

Wing has also been releasing new drone prototypes in recent months, unveiling several models in July. And this week, the company announced a partnership with DoorDash, allowing customers to order drone delivery directly from the DoorDash app.

By the looks of it, Amazon Prime Air is still riding Wing’s contrail. But the company has steadily ramped up operations – and left its colorful past on the catwalk.

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