Amazon gains patent to implement parachute-aided drone delivery
Amazon has been going from strength to strength in trialling the use of drones within their delivery systems, undertaking their first successful delivery through the use of drones in the UK in 2016. Drones are a significant innovative piece of technology which will prove invaluable for retailers and technological companies to meet their targets, alongside catering towards an increased customer expectation, with consumers who want products that are high-quality, low cost and delivered through a seamless and effortless process.
Since the US Superbowl, the notion of drone technology was brought back into the forefront with the company’s Amazon Air advert, where a couple are watching TV on the sofa with a bowl of Doritos in the middle of them. Amazon Air advert, highlighting a couple sitting on a sofa together with a bowl of Doritos between them. Whilst the man is licking his fingers, then dives his fingers back into the bowl for more, his other half calls for Alexa to “reorder Doritos from Prime Air”, of which Alexa states that they will be arriving soon, as a drone appears.
Niklas Hedin, CEO of delivery management expert Centiro explains that retailers are aware there will be continual repercussions regarding late deliveries, at which this patent forms part of Amazon’s wider plan to take back control. He explains: “Once consumers clamoured for free deliveries: something Amazon was known for when it shot to prominence. Yet shoppers have now moved on, developing an understanding of how different options suit their specific needs and requirements.
Retailers must ensure they can be confident in their last-mile capabilities, otherwise these issues will continue to reflect poorly on the overall brand experience customers receive. This explains why Amazon has brought more of its delivery function in house, and now appears to be building on its plans involving drones with planned functionality involving parachutes.”
Hedin concluded: “Put simply, retailers must focus on developing a robust and flexible carrier network, so they can provide customers with a broad range of tailored delivery options based on geography, cost and lead time. Doing this will enable retailers to give customers exactly what they want, and guarantee order promises won’t be broken at the most important time in the retail calendar.”
The US Patent and Tradesmark Offices’ decision to grant Amazon a patent to trial parachute-aided drone delivery will create a domino effect for a number of retail and technological companies, such as Google and Apple. Interests in consumer drone usage are also on the rise, where the FAA are seeing a large volume of requests for regular citizens utilise drones every day.
Through the patent, it is clear to see that Amazon’s new parachute-aided drone delivery system will enable packages to be delivered swiftly whilst the drone is in mid-flight, but will also minimise all potential damage upon release, of which the patent states, "The package delivery system can apply the force onto the package in a number of different ways. For example, pneumatic actuators, electromagnets, spring coils, and parachutes can generate the force that establishes the vertical descent path of the package." Named ‘Prime Air’ by Amazon, the drones will be able to carry packages which will carry packages up to 5 pounds to destinations that are approximately 30 minutes away or less.
Utilising parachutes is a somewhat precarious process, where a singular gust of wind could blow the package off course. To minimise this potential concern, the drone operating system will observe the package and where it lands post release, of which it will correct the landing position through implementing of compressed air, which will be embedded in the outer areas.
Once trials are complete, Amazon will look to fully launch the delivery service within the US. At present, the company will fine tune any current concerns or technological issues, with the aim to release the technology worldwide.
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Dr Peng Wei: Designing the Future of Autonomous Aircraft
Air traffic is expected to double by 2037. According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), the world will need 37,000+ new passenger and freight aircraft, and more than half a million new pilots—unless we come up with another solution. Right now, a George Washington University School of Engineering and Applied Science professor, Dr Peng Wei, is starting to research autonomous electric aircraft design.
NASA will fund the research, which will study how to minimise risks for electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL). As Airbus states: ‘Autonomous technologies also have the potential to improve air traffic management, enhance sustainability performance and further improve aircraft safety’.
Who is Dr Wei?
An assistant professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, Dr Wei has researched aircraft control, optimisation, and AI and ML applications in aviation. Over the next three years, he’ll lead the US$2.5mn NASA grant project in collaboration with researchers from Vanderbilt, the University of Texas at Austin, and MIT’s Lincoln Lab.
Why is His Research Important?
Even though the wide adoption of self-piloting cars, much less aircraft, is still far down the road, technologies that Dr Wei and his colleagues are researching will form the commercial transport of the future. But aviation manufacturers, in order to produce autonomous aircraft, will have to meet extremely high safety standards.
‘The key challenge for self-piloting capabilities is how the system reacts to unforeseen events’, said Arne Stoschek, Wayfinder Project Executive at Acubed. ‘That’s the big jump from automated to autonomous’. In the air, AI-piloted aircraft will have to manoeuvre around adverse weather conditions, such as wind and storms, and other high-altitude risks, such as GPS hacking, cyberattacks, and aircraft degradation. And the stakes are high.
‘If a machine learning algorithm makes a mistake in Facebook, TikTok, Netflix —that doesn't matter too much because I was just recommended a video or movie I don't like’, Dr Wei said. ‘But if a machine learning algorithm mistake happens in a safety-critical application, such as aviation or in autonomous driving, people may have accidents. There may be fatal results’.
What Are His Other Projects?
In addition to the new NASA research, Dr Wei has been awarded three other grants to pursue AI-piloted aircraft:
- A 2-year grant from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in conjunction with West Virginia University and Honeywell Aerospace to investigate “learning-based” aviation systems
- A six-month SBIR Phase I NASA award with Intelligent Automation to mitigate airspace congestion at vertiports—the electric craft version of airports.
- A 1-year collaborative grant with the University of Virginia and George Mason University from the Virginia Commonwealth Cyber Initiative (CCI) to develop anti-cyber attack technologies and aviation video systems
Research like NASA and Dr Wei’s three-year programme will help improve how AI reacts and adapts to challenging air conditions. In coming years, autonomous aircraft will likely take off slowly, starting with small package delivery, then upgraded drones, and finally commercialised aircraft. But congestion issues will worsen until autonomous aircraft are the best alternative.
According to BBC Future, by 2030, commuters will spend nearly 100 hours a year in Los Angeles and Moscow traffic jams, and 43 cities will be home to more than 10 million people. The final verdict? Bring on the AI-operated transit.