Amazon Debuts Next-Generation Drone Design and Fulfillment Robot

Last week at the inaugural Delivering the Future event, Amazon welcomed the outside world to its new robotics manufacturing facility, BOS27, in Westborough, Mass.

But the 350,000-square-foot facility — which opened in October 2021 and brings together research and development labs — was only part of the draw. Amazon unveiled a number of new technical innovations set to be deployed across its operations, including a lighter, more durable drone for deliveries and a new robotic system than can handle individual product sorting.

Next-Gen Drones

Just as customers in a few select US cities begin receiving their first Prime Air drone deliveries, Amazon is showcasing a next-generation delivery drone that will hit the air in 2024. The MK30 is billed as lighter, smaller, quieter and more durable than its predecessor, the MK27-2, which is the model that will be used until the MK30 is ready.

Drone delivery has been a decade in the making at Amazon, but the company is clear that it believes drones will be a necessity in the near future. “To sustainably deliver a vast selection of items in under an hourand eventually within 30 minutes, at scale, drones are the most effective path to success,” reads a company blog post about the new MK30 drone.

The MK30 features an increased range, expanded temperature tolerance and the ability to fly in light rain, vastly expanding the use cases under which customers will be able to select drone delivery for their Amazon orders. The MK30 also is 25% quieter than its predecessor, which Amazon pointed to as an important feature for widespread consumer acceptance of the technology.

The MK30 will go through “rigorous evaluation” by national aerospace authorities, including the Federal Aviation Administration, to prove its safety and reliability before it is put into operation. “We know our customers will only feel comfortable receiving drone deliveries if they know the system is safe and reliable,” continued the blog. “Our drones can encounter new, unexpected situations and still make safe decisions — autonomously and safely. We’ve created a sophisticated and industry-leading sense-and-avoid system that will allow our drones to operate at greater distances while safely and reliably avoiding other aircraft, people, pets and obstacles. While it’s impossible to eliminate all risks from flying, we have taken a proven aerospace approach to design safety into our system.”

New Fulfillment Robot: Sparrow

Amazon’s new Sparrow robotics system, which can handle individual packages of varying sizes.

Amazon also unveiled a new robot, called Sparrow, that supports individual product handling, a key innovation for a company that picks, stows and packs more than 13 million packages every day.

The Sparrow robotic system “significantly advances” item handling in Amazon warehouse with its ability to detect, select and handle individual products through the use of computer vision and AI.

“We have million of products of all shapes and sizes in our inventory, and we recognized the opportunity to invent new technology that could help handle them at Amazon’s scale,” reads a separate blog post. “Working with our employees, Sparrow will take on repetitive tasks, enabling our employees to focus their time and energy on other things while also advancing safety. At the same time, Sparrow will help us drive efficiency by automating a critical part of our fulfillment process so we can continue to deliver for customers.”