Drones

Amazon floats the idea of drone-dropping airships

A diagram of the proposed system, featuring an aerial fulfillment center (302), its drones (312) and a shuttle (350)
A diagram of the proposed system, featuring an aerial fulfillment center (302), its drones (312) and a shuttle (350)
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One of the proposed UAVs
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One of the proposed UAVs
Each airship would be stocked with an inventory of commonly-ordered goods, along with a fleet of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs)
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Each airship would be stocked with an inventory of commonly-ordered goods, along with a fleet of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs)
A diagram of the proposed system, featuring an aerial fulfillment center (302), its drones (312) and a shuttle (350)
3/3
A diagram of the proposed system, featuring an aerial fulfillment center (302), its drones (312) and a shuttle (350)

When it comes to delivery-by-drone, one of the main limiting factors is battery life. After all, the aircraft would have to fly from a warehouse to a client's home and then back again, all on a single battery charge. Well, a recently-unearthed patent filed by Amazon addresses that issue. It proposes using airships as "airborne fulfillment centers" (AFCs) that would essentially drop cargo-carrying drones toward the buildings below.

The patent suggests that the AFCs – which could be autonomous or have a human crew – would maintain an altitude of about 45,000 feet (13,716 m), above commercial airline routes. Each airship would be stocked with an inventory of commonly-ordered goods, along with a fleet of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).

The idea is that when an Amazon Prime Air order was placed, a computer system would check if the item was aboard an AFC in the client's general vicinity. If it was, it would be attached to a UAV multicopter drone (seen below), which would then be released from the AFC. Using a built-in mono-wing and the force of gravity, the UAV would proceed to glide down towards its target. As it got closer, it would start up its motors, allowing it to hone in on its destination more like a helicopter.

One of the proposed UAVs
One of the proposed UAVs

Once the delivery was made, the UAV would not fly back up to the AFC – that would require too much power. Instead, it would proceed to a ground station where it would be loaded onto a shuttle aircraft. Possibly taking the form of smaller airships, these shuttles would make periodic flights up to the AFCs, replenishing them not only with UAVs but also with inventory and fuel. They could also take away cargo such as overstock inventory.

This means that the AFCs themselves could remain aloft almost indefinitely. Although they wouldn't change location for each individual delivery, they could move to areas in which a demand for services was anticipated.

So, will we be seeing Amazon airships anytime soon? Quite likely not, although there was a time when the same thing was being said about the company's drone delivery service itself, which has now begun operations.

Source: United States Patent and Trademark Office via Mashable

7 comments
Nairda
I like the idea of airships. The only part about this concept that does not gel is how the shuttle and main airship marry up. I assume they link somehow and transfer cargo. This process I think would be tricky. The only worry is also if equipment failure or sabotage were to bring one of the airships down over populated areas full of heavy cargo.
piperTom
Is there no idea so simple that you cannot get a patent?
sagebrush6
Another problem it will face is dogs like mine would take the drone on & the drone would lose. Then what ? You come home and find a package in your front yard and the dog chewing on a drone. It invaded the dogs property. It's his now.
Wolf0579
Piper Tom, No. Microsoft was able to patent ones and zeros... note it was a PATENT, usually applied to physical objects, as opposed to a mere copyright which is usually applied to written works, which an arrangement of ones and zeros in an operating system program, is. Notice people, how urgently the Corporations are working to eliminate human involvement in every business endeavor, except for management, of course (cough). It won't be long before drones and automation are the dominate workforce, and us poor (non-management) humans will be unemployed, hungry and homeless.
CharlieSeattle
A flying drone can shuttle supplies in and wounded out of the battle space IF terrain following software, Kevlar armor and speed is improved. Flying drones now are merely targets at tree level and above.
Bob Flint
Seems that the storage and delivery warehouse has now taken to the skies and the streets will be empty.....NOT Patent away, because the concept is really dumb, and will never fly....stockpiling in the sky versus large empty warehouse space on terra-firma.
Bruce H. Anderson
Between Amazon and Airbus it is hard to decide who has the lamest of ideas. Just figuring how this mono-wing/drone will handle wind speeds (up to 200 mph) and temperature (-69.70F) at the proposed elevation boggles the mind. And that is just the beginning.