Fly my pretties: Amazon patents personal mini drones to locate lost cars or kids

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Amazon has been awarded a patent for a tiny personal assistant drone, which can be carried around with a user and sent off via voice commands to perform autonomous functions(Credit: US Patent Office)

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Imagine you're trying to find your car in a crowded parking lot. Rather than let frustration take hold, you simply say "locate car" and a tiny drone perched on your shoulder flies off and guides you to it. Amazon has been awarded a patent for a voice-activated personal assistant drone that would do just that, and may be used by emergency personnel for slightly more important tasks, like locating missing children or spotting fires.

Hobby drones that focus on racing, photography or joy flights are portable enough to take to the park for an afternoon, but Amazon's idea is one small enough to carry around day-to-day, in a bag or even attached to clothing. To shrink the UAV down to that size, the majority of the command processing would be offloaded to a separate unit that can pick up voice commands, interpret them and send instructions to the UAV. The drone in turn relays photos and videos back to either the processing device or a user's smartphone.

In the parking lot example, the drone can be trained to recognize the user's car by sight, by scanning the license plate, or through attaching a barcode or RFID tag somewhere on the vehicle. Amazon even suggests the same method could be used to find a child lost in a shopping center or theme park: "in some examples, Timmy can have, for example, an RFID tag sewn into his clothes or a barcode printed on his clothes."

Other ideas Amazon puts forward include sending the drone to check if you've remembered to close the garage door, or when you're stuck in traffic or a long line, it can hover overhead and report back on how many people are ahead of you.

Like a futuristic buddy cop movie, the little drone may even act like a flying dashcam for police, following and recording as a police officer talks to a driver they've pulled over, or zipping ahead to snap photos of a suspect's face during a chase. Firefighters might also find them useful for safely scouting a burning building or keeping an eye out for flare-ups after a blaze is contained.

As with any patent, there's no guarantee any of this will eventuate, but it's interesting to see companies exploring the possibilities of this kind of technology.

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