Amazon lands US patent covering drone security measures

Dive Brief:

  • Amazon has been awarded a patent on measures intended to secure and protect drones while in flight to deliver packages, the U.S. Patent Office confirmed, according to CNBC.
  • The patent is the result of a 2014 filing by Amazon, which sought to copyright "countermeasures of threats to an uncrewed autonomous vehicle," otherwise known as a drone. Amazon noted in its original filing that drones and their on-board communication and data systems could be targeted by malicious hackers.
  • The patent also refers to how delivery drones could be connected to a mesh network to communicate and exchange location data, and that techniques such as encryption, frequency hopping and spread-spectrum could be used to both improve security and reduce the likelihood of interference.

Dive Insight:

Reports of this patent award come just a couple of weeks after Amazon completed its first Prime Air drone delivery in the U.K., where it has pursued much of its drone development while the U.S. government failed to aggressively address delivery drone guidelines.

It's no surprise that Amazon was thinking about security measures for complex drone operating environments way back in 2014. Allowed to move at its own pace, the e-commerce giant might have had many delivery drones making regular flights by now. Even though Amazon's drone delivery ambitions — and the drone delivery hopes of the entire retail sector — became muddled and delayed by slow-moving regulation development, this patent is a significant win for Amazon and a step forward for drone delivery.

One of the big reasons why delivery drone regulations have been delayed is that government authorities want to make sure all the safety issues have been sorted out. If a delivery drone, or a number of delivery drones, were to be hacked in-flight, there could be disastrous implications both from a business perspective and a human safety perspective.

The unfortunate reality for delivery drones is the U.S. is that we may still be a couple years away from Federal Aviation Administration rules to govern their use, and even a little farther off from complex air space environments in which many drones from different operators are sharing the same space. Still, until then, drone operators can gain FAA approval for specific, controlled delivery projects, such as the extended pilot project Flirtey has been running on behalf of 7-Eleven in Nevada. Those projects and the efforts of companies like Amazon to prove the delivery drone flight can be safe and secure will help retail's drone delivery hopes make it to the next era intact.

Filed Under: Technology Logistics Loss Prevention & Security
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