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Amazon Shows Off Delivery Drone Prototype

Delivery-by-drone is a little closer to exiting the realm of science fiction and entering reality.

On Sunday, Amazon.com demonstrated a new drone prototype for its Prime Air unmanned 30-minute delivery service. Featuring the flight functions of a helicopter and an airplane, the octocopter is the first prototype Amazon has exhibited publically since two years ago when it announced plans to one day make local deliveries via drone. Capable of flying up to 15 miles and reaching altitudes of nearly 400 feet, the drone includes eight propellers and can take off and land vertically, like a helicopter. However, the prototype also boasts wings and a “pusher motor” that enables transition to the more energy-efficient flight mode of an airplane at altitude. Only the pusher motor – at the rear – runs when the drone is cruising.

Weighing less than 55 pounds, the drone has been documented flying at speeds of 55 to 58 mph. It would drop off packages by landing in backyards, which differs from a Google drone prototype that would make deliveries by releasing packages that float to the ground. Amazon and other technology companies have been working on “sense-and-avoid” technology, which would allow drones to land safely in yards, avoiding children, pets, lawn furniture and other objects.

Amazon says it is working on more than a dozen other drone prototypes, with the look and attributes of the drones continuing to evolve. Amazon plans to have different drones for different environments.

While the drone debut garnered media attention and excitement among tech enthusiasts, hurdles remain before Amazon can start landing in the backyards of consumers, including regulatory obstacles regarding commercial drones. As of now, Amazon has not made any deliveries by drone. Because of regulatory restrictions in the U.S., it’s possible that Amazon could first launch its Prime Air drone delivery service abroad.