IS IT A BIRD? IS IT A PLANE? Well, Amazon's new delivery drone is sort of the latter, looking sort of like an aeroplane that had drunken one night stand with a helicopter and forgot to use protection.
Yes, the everything-flogger has revealed a drone that flies like a plane but comes equipped with six propellers that help it take off and land like a helicopter.
This "hybrid design" as Amazon calls it - we prefer the term vehicular hermaphrodite - was revealed at Amazon's re:MARS Conference (Machine Learning, Automation, Robotics and Space) in Las Vegas, and supposedly blends the aerodynamics of a plane with the practicality of a helicopter.
The drone aims to help turn the company's two-day Prime shipping offer to anywhere in the US into a one-day service. And being able to switch between helicopter and plane modes was touted as the way to do this.
Amazon also promised that the drone will be safe, not only due to its six degrees of movement or its increased scope for movement but also from its artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities, which will allow it to better navigate past objects and avoid unexpected obstacles, say a confused flock of geese wondering 'oh what new nonsense is this?'.
"Our drones need to be able to identify static and moving objects coming from any direction. We employ diverse sensors and advanced algorithms, such as multi-view stereo vision, to detect static objects like a chimney," said Amazon's Jeff Wilke.
"To detect moving objects, like a paraglider or helicopter, we use proprietary computer-vision and machine learning algorithms."
There was no word on how the drone would avoid potshots taken by rootin' tootin' rednecks with access to serious firepower thanks to the US' madly loose gun laws.
But when the drone comes into land at a customer's address, it will use computer vision techniques Amazon claimed to have invented, to avoid things like clotheslines and telephone wires.
Despite our glibness, the drone does look reasonably cool in a slightly toy-meets-tech-way, and Amazon reckons it'll help cut down on the carbon emissions of deliveries; helping stop baby cows coughing is alright in our books.
It also reckons that the bizarre flying hexagon will begin delivering packages to customers in a matter of months.
Whatever way we slice it, drones look set to be a big part in trying to make things easier; see IBM's giving away of a drone swarm to help with disaster relief as such an example. Though, the other hand, they can also be used to bork the hell out of things. µ
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