As far-fetched as it sounds, the era of drones delivering packages is about to begin, according to Amazon. Earlier today, the company released a new ad on YouTube showing controversial British TV host Jeremy Clarkson praising the benefits of Amazon’s still in-development drone delivery service, Amazon Prime Air, along with an all new “hybrid” drone design that can switch between vertical and horizontal flight.
“A miracle of modern technologies,” Clarkson says, as the ad cuts to scenes of a father and mother using an Amazon Kindle Fire tablet to place an order for their daughter’s new soccer shoes using a new Amazon Prime Air button, which promises delivery in 30 minutes or less.
The ad then shows off a striking, all new, rectangular blue-and-white drone with rotors at the back and underbelly — a starkly different design than the black quadrocopter drone Amazon showed off in its announcement about Amazon Prime Air last year. Amazon Prime Air’s change of design mirrors that of Google’s Project X wing drone. That drone started as a tail-sitting plane, but now looks like a quadcopter with additional forward propellers.
Clarkson points out the new Amazon delivery drone rises vertically like a helicopter “to nearly 400 feet” before switching to horizontal flight orientation, “streamlined and fast,” like an airplane. That altitude is no coincidence, as it’s what the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration says is the upper limit for hobby aircraft, including drones. This friendliness with aerial regulation is new for Amazon; earlier this year, the company sparred with the FAA over delivery regulations. Amazon, as well as Google and several other companies, were recently part of an FAA task force to figure out drone registration rules.
Clarkson further adds that this new drone can fly for 15 miles straight, has automatic “sense and avoid” systems, and will be the first in a “whole family of Amazon drones, [with] different designs for different environments.” The drone appears to fly autonomously or beyond the line of sight of a pilot, which is currently against FAA rules for commercial drones but is likely to change with future legislation.
Amazon still hasn’t said exactly when the service will launch, but on its Prime Air website, the company says it “will not launch Prime Air until we are able to demonstrate safe operations” and “will deploy when and where we have the regulatory support needed to safely realize our vision,” which is quite vague. We’ve reached out to Amazon for more information and will update when we get it. In the meantime, watch its new drone take flight above.