Amazon Has Patented A Flying Warehouse
Tom Spendlove posted on December 31, 2016 |
US Patent granted in April shows that Amazon wants to create an Airborne Fulfillment Center as a com...

This week Amazon has been in the news for its "Airborne fulfillment center utilizing unmanned aerial vehicles for item delivery" patent, US9305280B1. At its simplest, the company looks to have patented a giant mothership that can house and control the small delivery drones that have been in the news for the past few years.

The ambition of this patent is the most striking thing to me. The abstract gives 45,000 feet as a possible altitude for the blimp to fly, and suggests that shuttles containing Amazon goods, workers, fuel and supplies back and forth from the fulfillment center.

Beyond just the idea that "there will be a floating command center delivering goods from eight and a half miles above the ground" the patent goes into heavy detail about the delivery drones that will be sent from the AFC and their possible rotor and arm configurations. It doesn't limit itself to current motor and rotor technology either, saying that "fans, jets, turbojets, turbo fans, jet engines, and the like may be used to propel the UAV."

Systems for deciding if the AFC will be used in a customer's order are also explained in the patent, using block diagrams and logic flowcharts. The two decision bubbles in my favorite chart ask if the customer is in range and if the customer has selected the AFC for delivery. If no then a concrete and asphalt operation will be sending the order.

This opens a huge range of possibilities. Parking an AFC outside a sporting event, or concert, or political rally could allow Amazon to target a specific audience with an avalanche of products for that audience. There's also huge potential here for development of more drone technology and different methods of creating flying vehicles. Jetpacks and flying cars are still probably far away, unfortunately.

Amazon's having a huge end of year. I've been watching bowl games all week and it's hard to escape the PrimeNow commercials, while the first drone delivery and a grocery store without checkout lines have also made the news. This patent doesn't necessarily mean there's a huge warehouse with a massive blimplike flying machine ready to go even in the next decade, but it's an exciting nudge in a new technological direction.

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