Amazon lands patent for 'airborne fulfillment center' to aid drone deliveries

Dive Brief:

  • Amazon has been awarded a U.S. patent for what it described in patent filings as an "airborne fulfillment center," from which it could launch delivery drones to enable fast package deliveries, CNBC reports.
  • The fulfillment center, which resembles a blimp in drawings included in Amazon's patent filing, would float at an altitude of around 45,000 feet and be stocked with products that drones could pick up and deliver to nearby locations as customers place orders. Drones also could recharge at the airship, and the airship itself could be refueled while in the air by using a shuttle.
  • The company also received patents for a concept under which drones would dock and recharge at tall buildings and other structures, as well as a concept allowing drones to use mesh network architectures to communicate with one another.

Dive Insight:

News of this patent award for what is destined to be called a "fulfillment blimp" seems to have been delayed for months, and curiously comes to light just after Amazon completed its first successful drone delivery in the U.K. The delay is not so much Amazon's doing, as patent awards are public information, but it may show that after several months of uncertainty around the future of drone delivery, more serious attention is being given to concepts surrounding the devices.

The report comes just days after CNBC reported another patent win by Amazon, that one covering measures to protect drones from hacking. With these two patents among others Amazon has reportedly won this year, the e-commerce giant is keeping the patent office pretty busy. Although, that has always been the case with Amazon, a company that seems to never have had a whimsical idea it didn't immediately try to patent (Remember anticipatory shipping?).

Drone delivery certainly went through its own stage when many people viewed it as an unrealistic idea, and the doubts increased this year when it became apparent that U.S. regulations governing drone delivery would take longer to sort out than Amazon and other drone delivery hopefuls had hoped. But the e-commerce giant isn't the only company with big drone delivery plans. Drone delivery firm Flirtey completed 77 product deliveries by drone in November to about a dozen different customers on behalf of a nearby 7-Eleven store.

Filed Under: Technology E-commerce Logistics
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