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Aerial delivery centres patented by Amazon

03 January 2017 - 10:58 by Mike Price

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While Amazon may already be gaining a reputation as the biggest proponent of delivery drone technology, it could eventually have entire warehouses based in the sky, according to patents filed in the US.

The Guardian reports that the patents, which originate from 2014, comprise a description of so-called AFCs, or airborne fulfilment centres. And as the name suggests, they will operate high above the ground to cope with high delivery volumes during peak periods.

The idea is that the AFCs will effectively be very large drones in their own right, with the ability to dispatch a smaller battalion of drones to customers’ houses when they place an order online.

It is also possible that Amazon’s eventual AFC deployment will involve airships, suspended at heights of up to 45,000 feet by giant balloons, which then allow drones to leave and return at will, without taking up any space on the ground.

One of the reasons that this approach is advantageous is that drones are limited in range by the amount of power they can store onboard in batteries. So by housing them in a fulfilment centre, which is itself capable of travelling long distances, a lot of these problems can be overcome.

There will no doubt be those who are concerned about the prospect of giant delivery facilities for safe shopping online hanging in the sky, presumably over residential areas, with the likelihood of a catastrophe occurring sure to play on the minds of anyone underneath. On the other hand, the prospect of far quicker, more efficient deliveries from Amazon may be appealing enough to outweigh the downsides.

Any patents filed by a major company should not be considered as a certain prediction of what will be attempted in reality in the future. But this case does present some interesting, high tech prospects for the e-commerce market.