Amazon's new delivery drone is a helicopter-airplane hybrid

The Prime Air bot uses AI to adapt to the unexpected.

Amazon's Prime Air drone delivery still isn't a practical reality, but that isn't stopping the company from iterating on its robotic flyer's design. The internet retailer has unveiled a next-generation electric drone that tackles some of the challenges the autonomous courier faces. It's now a "hybrid design" that can take off and land vertically like a typical hexacopter drone, but has aerodynamics (and thus efficiency) more like that of a fixed-wing aircraft. More importantly, it's safer -- and we're not just talking about the protective shroud that doubles as wings.

As the vehicle operates on six degrees of movement instead of four, it's overall more stable and better suited to coping with gusts of wind. AI plays a crucial role, too. It can avoid unexpected obstacles (including moving ones), of course, but it should also be adept at spotting wires that drones are more likely to miss, such as power lines or the clothesline in your backyard.

Amazon is still aiming for drones with a 15-mile range and an ability to haul packages under 5lbs to customers within 30 minutes. It's hoping drones will not only deliver packages faster, but reduce the firm's environmental impact by encouraging people to stay at home.

You may need to temper your expectations. There's no mention of when you could expect broadly available service, and that's still highly dependent on regulators clearing the way for delivery drones. Also, Amazon has yet to fully tackle the social and technological hurdles these drones face, such as the irritation of drone noise or the challenges of flying in the rain. This represents a clear step closer to Amazon's goal, but not much more than that.