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Amazon Plots ‘Airship Warehouse’ For Drone Deliveries

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

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Patent reveals plan to create ”airborne fulfilment centres’ or ‘flying warehouses’ to act as mothership for drones

Amazon’s desire to expand its delivery options continues with the emergence of a new patent for a flying warehouse, from which its delivery drones will be deployed.

The flying warehouse, or ‘airborne fulfilment centres’ (AFC) according to the patent, will hover over cities and will be resupplied with fresh inventory from the ground by smaller airships.

It comes after Amazon earlier this month made the first successful delivery by drone (or UAV), after shipping a parcel to a customer in Cambridge.

amazonairshipFlying Airships

The AFC concept would allow Amazon to quickly deliver goods in areas where it expects heavy demand. For example, an airship floating above a rugby or football stadium would be able to rapidly deliver snacks or merchandise to the audience via its fleet of onboard drones.

Amazon’s patent was granted in April 2016 but has only now come to light thanks to analyst Zoe Leavitt from CB Insights.

“An AFC may be positioned at an altitude above a metropolitan area and be designed to maintain an inventory of items that may be purchased by a user and delivered to the user by a UAV that is deployed from the AFC,” reads the patent.

“For example, a user may browse an e-commerce website and place an order for an item that is in the inventory of the AFC,” said the patent. “When the UAV departs the AFC, it may descend from the high altitude of the AFC using little or no power other than to guide the UAV towards its delivery destination and/or to stabilize the UAV as it descends.”

The patent says the AFC would float at an altitude of around 45,000 and could also be used as a platform that hosts a giant advertising board.

The Amazon patent then goes to describe how the AFC could be refueled and replenished using a smaller shuttle-like vehicle. This could be a smaller aircraft capable of docking onto the AFC and unloading products as well as fuel.

Self Protection

Meanwhile another Amazon patent has revealed some of the defences if drone are attacked by angry members of the public or indeed external hackers, whilst in the air.

The patent, entitled ‘Countermeasure for Threats to an Uncrewed Autonomous Vehicle,’ was actually filed back in November 2014, and was awarded on 20 December 2016.

The patent reveals that if an Amazon drone is attacked by a rock, gun or even an arrow, it can deploy a number of protective counter measures including an airbag, foam, parachute, bumper etc. The foam for example would coat the drone so it has a soft landing.

And if the drone detects other threats such as hacking, it could navigate to a secondary location, and it can detect signal jammers.

Amazon has worked hard over the past few years to overcome concerns about drone deliveries, and these latest patents suggest its ambition in this sphere has not been checked by the growing reality of its drone delivery systems.

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