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Tonight: Jeremy Clarkson presents the Amazon Prime Air delivery drone

Nearly two years to the day since Amazon boss Jeff Bezos unveiled his grand plan for a delivery drone, the company has revealed its second prototype, which sports a design markedly different to its original effort.

Keen to make the most of its pricey Jeremy Clarkson contract inked earlier this year, the online retail giant used the former BBC Top Gear presenter and soon-to-be Amazon Prime car show frontman to show off the new flying machine in a video posted on YouTube on Sunday.

Curiously, the design, which incorporates both propellors and wings, looks similar to Google’s second Project Wing machine, which we glimpsed in October.

Clarkson’s video shows how Amazon’s new drone might deliver a pair of soccer shoes to a customer living within 30 minutes’ flying range of one of its distribution centers.

“After rising vertically like a helicopter to nearly 400 feet, this amazing hybrid design assumes a horizontal orientation and becomes a streamlined and fast airplane,” Clarkson says, adding that in time there’ll be “a whole family of Amazon drones different designs for different environments.”

The one shown off in the video can fly for up to 15 miles — 5 miles further than the first design — and uses sense-and-avoid technology to help deal with obstacles both on the ground and in the air. Whereas the original design held the package in a plastic delivery box, the new one carries the product inside a compartment.

As the drone nears it delivery location, the customer receives an alert to their mobile device. An Amazon marker placed on the ground in the customer’s yard helps guide the drone safely to its destination, whereupon it releases its cargo before heading back to base.

Clarkson says Amazon’s delivery drone could be buzzing over our neighborhoods “in the not-too-distant future,” though the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) reluctance to let drone pilots operate their machines out of the line of sight may delay this service from getting off the ground. Still, this latest video, which Amazon is keen to point out features “actual flight footage,” reflects the company’s ongoing determination to make the service a reality.

In an effort to speed up the implementation of a viable drone-based delivery system, which both Google and Walmart are also interested in introducing, Amazon is working with NASA and others to develop an air traffic control system to maintain safety and order in the skies for remotely controlled flying machines.

The FAA is gearing up to release a set of guidelines for commercial drone operation, though until an advanced air traffic control system can be rolled out, the agency’s rules are expected to remain fairly restrictive.

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Trevor Mogg
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