Amazon is seeking a patent on a beehive-like or cylindrical building that would serve as a vertical fulfillment center for delivery drones in urban areas, according to an application published Thursday by the the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and obtained by CNN Money.
The company first filed for the patent in December of 2015, several months before it filed for a patent on an airborne blimp-like fulfillment center that would allow delivery drones to pick up packages, dock and refuel without coming back to land.
The fulfillment tower concept also would include space at the ground level of the structures for truck delivery bays, as well as space for customers to pick up packages as part of a self-service program, according to the patent.
The drawings of the beehive-like structure described in the patent recall the alien landing craft in last year's freaky, Oscar-nominated film "Arrival." These urban fulfillment centers would not be floating just above the ground, as far as we can tell, but the design does look otherworldly.
The beehive-like structure appears to be just one of the potential designs, as the patent also shows an apparently separate, more cylindrical drone delivery fulfillment center design. The idea overall seems to be to allow the delivery drones to enter the structure from just about any direction. This would help make drone package pick-up and delivery as efficient as possible, and help Amazon conquer some of the logistical hurdles that must be figured out before drone delivery can take off.
Regardless of the shape of of these fulfillment towers, a vertical fulfillment center makes a lot of sense for dense cities. Most fulfillment centers are massively spread-out, more low-lying structures on the outskirts of the suburbs, or even further out than that. But, those existing buildings are both too far away from urban centers and not specifically designed to allow delivery drones to come and go efficiently.
Is Amazon on to a completely revolutionary re-thinking of fulfillment center design? Only time will tell, and with patent filings nothing is ever certain. Amazon could be really serious about this, or looking to patent it for a just-in-case scenario. After all, while there seem like obvious efficiencies to be gained from moving a fulfillment center closer to a large populace, who can then get their packages more quickly via drone, there also could be huge real estate, construction and civic permitting costs associated with this kind of structure.
It's another interesting idea from Amazon, but the e-commerce giant still needs to figure out how to get beyond the testing phase with drone delivery before it gets too far down the path of designing futuristic fulfillment centers.