The company has made its first drone delivery already. But when will the real mothership – i.e. an airborne fulfillment center with blimps and drones – be ready for lift off?
Amazon concludes 2016 having completed, in the UK, its first commercial drone delivery with Amazon Prime Air. The e-commerce giant has long touted and put copyright on this emerging technology, envisioning a future where direct delivery by air becomes the norm.
This includes sending parcels by blimp and drone, based on a new patent disclosure from Amazon, and an airborne mobile fulfillment center at 45,000 feet, which deploys drones to deliver the goods for “the final or last mile delivery” leg.
Consumer attitudes are not quite there yet, though: ReportLinker found that less than half of Americans are not yet open to the idea of drone deliveries in 2016. But for the other half, it’s a service that other companies hope to get in on as well, as evidenced by Flirtey‘s successful rollout of 7-Eleven deliveries this year, with UAVs bringing food and medicines to customers in Nevada in mere minutes, saving a trip to the store.
Fully winterized, this technology would certainly do well in the Northeast, Midwest and Northwestern United States. Regular consumers and hospitals will surely pay extra for their cold and flu medicine if it doesn’t mean a rush hour drive, in slush, to a Rite Aid at night.
That’d be true for pizza in the summer or toilet paper, too, in any season. People increasingly expect their products with same day delivery, even if a lot of shoppers still prefer a store experience, and drones will make same-hour delivery possible for a lot of consumer products.
Amazon has even more wide-ranging plans than this, though it will take years before they are anything more than flights of fancy on the drawing board.
A patent filed this spring, and only now made public, shows just how far the company wants to go. It’s shutting out rivals who don’t even have the capacity to threaten it yet with its latest concept. This would be a blimp mothership that carries drones, cargo, and refueling facilities. It’d fly so high, above most jet planes, that crewed models would require radiation shielding and pressurized cabins for the people on board.
The company is already thinking of ways to use this system. The drones could replace human vendors at a sports stadium, dispensing with old school concessions hawkers and instead flying hotdogs and popcorn right to your seat.
God help any errant beer UAV that does calculate a home run’s trajectory quick enough to scoot, though. This of course highlights a still vexing set of problems for full scale commercial rollout of delivery drones: They need to be able to make such calculations on the fly (literally), trace their paths out without fault, and not require huge liability insurance payments to meet regulations
Other patents that Amazon disclosed this year focus on bringing voice and image recognition technology to their drones and perches where the drones can loiter or recharge during delivery runs. It would be inefficient, after all, for each UAV to have to fly back to the high-altitude mothership when a bigger, intermediary drone could do most of the legwork between the base and the smaller craft made to fly not much above treetop level. (This is why the newest patent mentions shuttle flights in its summary.)
This is why a less-heralded, but just as important patent – actually, it’s more important than the blimp idea or other UAV concepts mentioned above – has also been filed by Amazon. This patent is for cyber security applications, to ensure the drones won’t be hijacked or disabled so easily.
The blimp and UAV patent application takes the concept of a skymall very literally, with the blimp flying overhead, displaying Amazon ad banners and then delivering the goods to customers on the ground in minutes.
In the interim, it is more likely Amazon will turn to another “disruptive” model to increase delivery times and cut costs, as well as make use of its existing assets to compete with the companies it works with now to fulfill delivers, like UPS and FedEx. That would be Uber’s freight model, and not necessarily the self-driving truck (Otto) part. Instead, as The Wall Street Journal reports, Amazon wants to get into the booking business, an industry worth $150 billion it’s well-positioned to exploit because it already has the drivers, trucks, and cloud to do so without worrying about flight paths, pilot licenses, and video uplinks.
The article Is Amazon’s patent for an airborne fulfillment center just hot air? was first published on Geektime.
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