I retired in April 2013 after 25 years as a librarian at the British Library specialising in inventions. This included running numerous workshops; writing books on inventions and a work blog; carrying out searches for clients; and one-to-one meetings with inventors. [more]


29 December 2016

Amazon and its "airborne fulfillment center"

I've just heard about Amazon's astounding patent Airborne fulfillment center utilizing unmanned aerial vehicles for item delivery. It uses an airship warehouse that deploys drones, or UAVs, to deliver packages to nearby addresses. Other vehicles would replenish the airship at intervals.

It was published as long ago (well, about eight months) as 5 April 2016 as a granted American patent, having been filed in 2014, but is described as a filed application in the BBC news story, published today, Amazon files patent for flying warehouse. Wrong, it has rights in the USA (but was apparently not filed abroad, so can be used there unless the idea can be shown to have been disclosed before the filing date). Below is one of the 13 pages of drawings from the 27 page patent specification.

Wow ! They really seem to be serious about the idea. Amazon's published patent applications and grants in the area of aviation from the year 2000 to 2016 are listed, in filing date order (most recent first). All 36 of them. There may be some duplication -- I usually only select World documents but Amazon usually uses the US system which confuses matters.

It's interesting to see that some are about keeping the noise down, perhaps to overcome possible objections. One patent application, published in September 2016, is the interesting Landing of unmanned aerial vehicles on transportation vehicles for transport -- landing them on truck roofs.

Other patents concern authenticating messages sent to the drone. Presumably there would be problems with hackers at random ordering drones to deliver to them ? Or perhaps trying to damage the company's image.

Like the concept of automonous vehicles on roads, unmanned aerial vehicles need to be trusted as being reliable. Amazon Prime Air is the name of the experimental service. My concern is, how does it get to the actual customer -- is the package left on the doorstep, how is the customer supposed to know it's arrived, and so on.

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