To see! High in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s Amazon

Corvallis Airport was chosen by Amazon Prime Air as one of two sites in Oregon to test and analyze their in-development delivery drones.

According to an unbranded sign posted at the airport, drone operations have been continuing since June 28, 2021. Local residents noticed the drones in operation last August, without knowing the details of the tests.

This week, Av Zammit, a spokesperson for Amazon, confirmed that “different aspects of the Prime Air program are being developed in multiple locations around the world – Corvallis has been instrumental in developing this technology.”

Although the city of Corvallis has not confirmed the city’s airspace as a testing ground, testing sites include Israel, the United Kingdom, France, Austria and other parts of the world. ‘Europe. Oregon’s other testing town is Pendleton, and unlike Corvallis, it has a whole company set up for testing called Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS).

Zammit said, “We received a Part 135 Air Carrier certification from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in August 2020 and remain focused on scaling a safe and reliable service.

This certification gives Amazon the ability to transport goods on small drones “beyond the visual line of sight” of the operator. The current range of a drone for flight is between 7 and 15 miles. Corvallis airport’s location – surrounded by miles of agriculture and farmland – gives Amazon an advantage in testing flights without passing through residents’ homes.

drones

Amazon Prime Air drones weigh around 88 pounds, about the same as a lawn mower. According to the sign at the airport, the tested drones will range from the surface to 400 feet above the ground, cruising at about 200 feet.

Amazon has filed several patents to resolve safety issues in the event of an in-flight problem. It’s not publicly known what aspects are being tested here, but the idea of ​​a lawnmower-sized drone dropping unexpectedly seems dangerous.

According to TechCrunch, the drone can easily handle a rotor that stops working, which is quite common these days. Under certain circumstances, it can even handle two failing units. And unlike most other drones, it can hover when needed, just like an airplane. But when it needs to find a place to land, its artificial intelligence (AI) kicks in and the drone tries to find a safe place to land, away from people and objects. He must do this without having any prior knowledge of his environment.

Security

In response to a question about what Amazon is doing to keep Corvallis residents safe, Zammit said, “Safety is our top priority. Our vehicles will be built with multiple redundancies, as well as sophisticated sense and avoid technology. Additionally, through our extensive testing program, we will collect data to continue to improve the security and reliability of our systems and operations.

Noise

With its six rotors and its large size, the drones must be noisy. This is it is unclear how strong the drone will be. Amazon reports that it is well within established safety standards and that the noise profile is also important to them.

They compared hearing a dentist’s drill to classical music. Drones fly hundreds of meters in the air, high above people and structures. Further reducing the sound signature is one of the important challenges the Amazon Prime Air team is working on.

Time will tell if the sound levels will be enough to not notice deliveries arriving in your yard or to alert local birds to the drone’s presence.

Talented research team

“Yue Cao, Assistant Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the College of Engineering”, by a 2019 OSU EECS News Announcerst, “is collaborating with Amazon Prime Air to make UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) delivery a reality… Cao will help develop an advanced propulsion system that is more reliable and efficient. multidisciplinary challenges in the fields of power electronics, motorization, energy storage and cooling.

Cao was recently honored with a National Science Foundation Award for an energy storage systems project.

Although Zammit admitted he didn’t know Cao, he pointed out, “We continue to hire and develop the brightest minds in the industry and are looking for even more talent to join our team.”

Jobs on LinkedIn show Amazon Prime Air advertising for drone operators in Pendleton.

Last mile delivery

Corvallis has its share of “last mile autonomous delivery” experiences, such as Daxbot or the OSU Starship Couriers. The race for cost-effective, eco-friendly and safe delivery systems to get customers’ purchases from warehouses to homes has become competitive with big business – Amazon, Google/Alphabet and Walmart – wanting to lead the current $51 billion market.

Having a test site so close to home raises many questions regarding safety, environmental impact, community benefits and most importantly: when will we be able to get our Amazon orders in 30 minutes or less?

Stay tuned.

By Stacey Newman Weldon