A patent filed by Amazon outlines the company's vision for vertical drone delivery hives that could be destined for urban centers. These tall, multilevel cylinders would receive truck freight at the ground level, with robots then loading up delivery drones that would leave and return through dozens of windows dotted up the sides of the structure.
Amazon's vast order fulfillment centres are already otherworldly. A company that wants to be able to sell you everything needs a ton of space to keep its everythings in, and some real logistical intelligence to keep deliveries fast and accurate – especially as the company expands into groceries and fresh food.
But these massive warehouses that are generally located on the outskirts of cities will likely need to get closer to population centers when the company's long-awaited drone delivery service gets up and running. A patent published yesterday gives us a peek at a potential solution to this problem in what could become a very common sight in urban areas in the coming decades.
The multi-level fulfillment center for unmanned aerial vehicles looks like some kind of cylindrical hive, with large truck bays all around the ground level to accept freight from major depots, and dozens upon dozens of little windows up the sides of the cylinder that act as entry and exit bays for drones, which will handle the last mile or two of the delivery process.
Each window will be secure in its own right, and will only open to accept authenticated drones. It's unclear how Amazon plans to prevent unauthorized UAVs from being flown in the window, but then it's also unclear exactly what you'd gain by flying one in there and having the window shut behind it. These launch/landing bays will also have the ability to throw the drones outward on a set initial trajectory rather than have them take off vertically by themselves.
Inside the hive there are robots tasked with loading and charging the UAVs before and after jobs, as well as moving them around or replacing batteries as needed. There are also vertical corridors that allow the drones to move between levels, including some kind of lift assist system that blows air upward to take some load off the props.
The entire upper seaction of the building would be arranged in a hub/spoke configuration, with the whole building designed to present the maximum possible number of approach and departure slots.
Some kind of flight control system would manage the swarms of UAVs as they enter and leave the building, and one clause in the patent application speaks of potentially prioritizing the bays toward the top of the building to keep the buzzing noise of drone props to a minimum around ground level where it might annoy locals.
But if – or in all likelihood, when – this vision comes to fruition, the buzzing of thousands of small props above may end up becoming as familiar to us as the roar of traffic is today.