Flying Warehouses? Amazon’s Got The Patent For That

A patent for airborne fulfillment centers has been awarded to Amazon – which means that the sky is no longer the limit!

Well known for testing the waters, Amazon have already trialed delivery with drones in the US with success – and are even moving to testing out their service in the UK. Their first successful drone delivery in the UK was on December 7th 2016 in Cambridge; a TV streaming stick and a bag of popcorn.

Although the drone delivery service does provide the benefits it claims – fast delivery time in under 30 minutes being one of those benefits – there are a few drawbacks and issues to overcome. Drones at their current capacity cannot carry large or heavy goods and it takes a lot of energy to launch drones off the ground to deliver the goods.

Now, however, it has recently come to light that in 2014 Amazon filed for (and in 2016 was awarded) the patent for a flying drone warehouse in the US. The patent is for giant airships (referred to as “airborne fulfillment centers – AFCs) that would contain goods and use drones to dispatch them quickly. This would provide a solution to the issue of energy usage in getting the drones to take flight as they would already be in the air.

Plans for the warehouse blimp. Source: CNBC

The AFC may be an airship that remains at a high altitude (eg 45,000ft) and UAVs with ordered items may be deployed from the AFC to deliver ordered items to user-designated delivery locations. As the UAVs descend, they can navigate horizontally toward a user-specified delivery location using little to no power, other than to stabilise the UAV and/or guide the direction of descent. Shuttles (smaller airships) may be used to replenish the AFC with inventory, UAVs, supplies, fuel, etc. Likewise, the shuttles may be utilised to transport workers to and from the AFC.” – The patent file reads

This has many practical uses, some of which Amazon outlined themselves. These include:

  • Sporting events. During large sporting events, the demand for memorabilia increases – an idea that Amazon proposed was the use of these warehouses above sporting games to provide the memorabilia and possibly even advertising!
  • Quick delivery into metropolitan areas. Having these warehouses stored above metropolitan areas means that products will be delivered quickly in times of high demand.

However, this is not the first drone-related patent that Amazon has been awarded. Another patent uncovered in July revealed that Amazon also contemplated using tall buildings and objects as docking stations for drones to recharge. Another uncovered patent file detailed how drones would “communicate” with each other and use information gathered by other drones to plan routes, avoid weather disruptions etc.

Although these ideas seem outlandish now, Amazon may well implement them – and they might become our new normal! On the other hand, they could simply be reserving rights and claiming ideas before competitors do the same and these ideas could wind up sitting on a shelf.

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