The engineering side of things is central to Amazon's drone delivery plans, but so too is the need to convince the public that these things are safe. A series of patents has given an insight into how the e-commerce giant is addressing these concerns, with the latest describing drones that can break apart to spread the loads of metal and plastic raining down if something goes wrong.
Four years have passed since Amazon first revealed its plans for drones that would deliver packages to its customers. Although it has trials underway around the world, the service is yet to really take flight with the legal roadblocks remaining insurmountable for now, at least in the US.
While the Federal Aviation Administration continues to ponder the safe integration of drones into US airspace, Amazon is doing much the same. Some of its more creative patents have included using lamp posts as drone docking stations to keep them charged up, stuffing safety parachutes into shipping labels and deploying drones from motherships that double as flying warehouses.
A patent filed last year and now granted to the company seeks to address what would happen to Amazon's delivery drones in the event of a mid-air emergency. In addition to a flight controller that controls the flightpath of the drone, the aircraft would also be fitted with a "fragmentation controller," which essentially breaks it apart in midair should such a need arise.
The fragmentation controller would detect when something goes wrong with the operation of the drone, and would come up with a "fragmentation sequence," dictating when certain parts should be broken off and released. This means tracking the flightpath along with things like the weather conditions and topography to determine when and where is best to deposit certain drone components.
Clearly, copping a propellor in the head wouldn't be ideal, but hey, it'd be better than an entire drone. As is always the way with patents, it's impossible to tell how serious Amazon actually is about building this functionality into its delivery drones, but if nothing else, it shows it is continuing to think outside the square.
Source: United States Patent Office
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