Amazon's airborne fulfilment centre would use a fleet of drones to make deliveries © US Patent and Trademark Office
Amazon's airborne fulfilment centre would use a fleet of drones to make deliveries © US Patent and Trademark Office

Amazon patents flying warehouse

4 January 2017

Amazon has filed a patent for a flying warehouse that would deliver packages using a fleet of drones.

The “airborne fulfilment centre”, patented in the US, would consist of a giant airship that remains at high altitude while drones collect packages from it to deliver to locations on the ground.

The online retail giant’s patent was discovered by analytics firm CB Insights, which cheekily dubbed it Amazon’s “death star”.

CB Insights said members of its team had dug further into Amazon’s patents and found plans to create a connected network of drones, where multiple drones would share information with each other about their surroundings.

It said Amazon was also considering fitting drone bases into buildings, mobile phone towers or lampposts, and had filed a patent for a drone defence system.

This patent detailed how a drone could defend itself from an attack by a “malicious person” wielding a bow and arrow by covering itself in protective foam that absorbs kinetic energy. It did not specify how the drone would anticipate the attack.

Amazon’s interest in using drones for deliveries has been long documented. In July it announced a partnership with the UK government to explore what steps were needed to make drones deliveries a reality.

The UK government gave Amazon special permission to explore what it termed “beyond line of sight operations”, where the pilot cannot directly see the drone, in rural and suburban areas.

It also gave the company permission to test sensor performance to ensure the drones can identify and avoid obstacles and conduct flights where one pilot operates multiple, highly automated, drones.

In December Amazon was reported to have made its first UK delivery by drone – of an Amazon Fire TV box and a bag of popcorn to an address in Cambridge.

The company is reported to have only two UK customers enrolled in the programme at present but said it planned to expand its service to dozens of customers in coming months. The trial is limited to daytime deliveries during suitable weather, promising deliveries within 30 minutes.

The first trial delivery, which was close to Amazon’s UK base, took 13 minutes.

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