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Amazon Offers New Glimpse Of What Its Drone Delivery Could Look Like

Amazon has released a glimpse of what its much-anticipated drone deliveries could look like, although it warns the service is still very much in a testing phase.

A video released over the weekend shows a drone being loaded with a small package on a warehouse conveyor line. It then floats through a suburban neighborhood to a house, hovers over a yard, slowly lowers itself onto a small landing pad and deposits the package, all in about 30 minutes.

"It looks like science fiction, but it's real. One day, seeing Prime Air vehicles will be as normal as seeing mail trucks on the road," the company says in a news release.

The drones will fly no higher than 400 feet from the ground — low enough to avoid other aircraft but high enough to bypass traffic-clogged streets. They will be able to carry packages of no more than 5 pounds and travel distances of 10 miles or more, Amazon says.

You may recall that in 2013, Amazon released this video of what it envisioned the delivery drone might look like:

Wired notes that while the drone news might be a marketing ploy, the sooner the service launches, the better:

"In the next 30 years, the American population will increase by 70 million, to 390 million people. Thanks in part to all the crap those new people will order from Amazon, freight volume will grow 45 percent, to 29 billion tons a year, according to a February report by the DOT. We are not well equipped for that. Our roads and bridges are crumbling, and we're not setting aside the money to fix them. Trucks, which move nearly 70 percent of American freight, already waste $27 billion a year in time and fuel while stuck in traffic. Those trucks, BTW, aren't going electric anytime soon.

"We need new ways to transport people and the stuff they crave, and drones can help out."

Amazon is hardly the only big company looking into drone delivery. In October, a video surfaced showing a drone developed by Google that can fly five miles in five minutes. The Australian drone manufacturer Flirtey recently partnered with NASA to deliver medical supplies to a Virginia airport from its base in Nevada.

Still, regular drone deliveries are a long way from becoming reality, Amazon says:

"We are testing many different vehicle designs and delivery mechanisms to discover how best to deliver packages in a variety of environments. We have more than a dozen prototypes that we've developed in our research and development labs. The look and characteristics of the vehicles will evolve over time."

One hurdle the company has to overcome involves regulation: It can't start drone deliveries until the Federal Aviation Administration finishes drawing up regulations to govern the commercial use of unmanned aircraft.

"We will deploy when and where we have the regulatory support needed to safely realize our vision," the company says.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Jim Zarroli is an NPR correspondent based in New York. He covers economics and business news.