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Amazon Shows Off Updated Prime Delivery Drone It Hopes to Launch in 2024

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Amazon caught everyone off guard in 2013 when it announced plans for Prime Air, a drone-based service that promised 30-minute deliveries to your door. It seemed too good to be true, and almost a decade later, it still is. Prime Air continues to be an experiment for the retail giant, but it has unveiled a new drone design that could get Prime Air closer to viability.

Since that initial reveal, Amazon has conducted small-scale tests of drone deliveries, but its robots have suffered component failures, crashes, and even fires. That’s not the sort of machine you want to send zipping toward someone’s house, and Amazon acknowledges that in its most recent update on Prime Air. “We know our customers will only feel comfortable receiving drone deliveries if they know the system is safe and reliable,†Amazon says.

That’s why it has designed the new MK30 drone that is allegedly safer and 25 percent quieter. The goal is the same for this robot. It has to carry a package weighing up to five pounds hundreds of feet into the air, locate the delivery location, drop off the package, and then return home without crashing into anything. Amazon says it hopes the hexagonal MK30 will be able to replace the current MK27-2 as soon as 2024. The MK30 is lighter than the current model, giving it increased range, and it’s the first Amazon drone that is capable of flying in light rain and extreme temperatures.

Amazon’s current MK27-2 drone.

If the MK30 proves to be more reliable, it could finally be what makes Prime Air a reality. But it’s a big risk — there will be a lot of questions the first time one of these robots crashes into something while on a delivery, and that’s probably inevitable for a company that moves so many packages. It’s not even clear Amazon will get clearance from federal regulators to operate the service once it gets the kinks worked out.

Amazon as a whole is still pulling in tens of billions in profit every year, but some segments of the business have been bleeding money. The company’s new CEO, Andy Jassy, has started looking for places to cut the fat, and a drone delivery program that has been in development for a decade seems like something that might get a second look. Still, 30-minute drone deliveries could catapult Amazon ahead, just as 2-day Prime delivery did 17 years ago. But first, Prime Air has to get off the ground.

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