Global retail giant Amazon, at the forefront of a daring endeavour to deliver goods to customers minutes after orders are placed using custom-made autonomous drones, wants a separate airspace where only such craft can fly. It would mean speedy deliveries within the 30-minute window from the time a customer places their order to when the tiny aircraft drops it off on their doorstep.
Essentially what Amazon and its Prime Air drone service are asking for is an air corridor between 200 and 400 feet that would only be used by drones – not necessarily its own – as well as another 100 feet above this slice of airspace which would be marked as a no-fly zone in order to guard against encounters with commercial and other aircraft.
This special ‘drone-only’ airspace would be established in major world cities and other urban areas where there are Amazon distribution centres nearby and from where the drones would begin their delivery journeys, according to the company's proposal, which could result in a major shake-up in order fulfilment and international parcel services.
Amazon says its drones would use GPS technology so their location is known at all times, have on-board internet so that real-time data can be obtained and the craft can avoid buildings and other drones – and they will also need to be able to communicate with each other so that they don't collide.
Unveiling the pitch for drone-only airspace, Prime Air vice president Gur Kimchi said safety was the top priority, and that multiple redundancies would be built into the craft in case of failures.
The way we guarantee the greatest safety is by requiring that as the level of complexity of the airspace increases, so does the level of sophistication of the vehicle," he said. "Under our proposal everybody has to be collaborative – vehicles must be able to talk to each other and avoid each other as the airspace gets denser at low altitudes."
Amazon is currently conducting tests of its drones "in multiple international locations" and has set up Prime Air centres in the US, UK and Israel. The company hopes that "one day, seeing Prime Air vehicles will be as normal as seeing mail trucks on the road."