Drones may be one of the next big things in tech, but today’s flying robots have one major flaw: Their range is terrible.
Now, Amazon.com Inc. may have come up with a clever solution for this problem: a flying drone fortress. Earlier this year, Amazon filed for a patent for what it calls an aerial fulfillment center, or AFC, which is essentially an airship warehouse that can dispense drones down to the surface.
According to the patent, the award of which was circulated only recently, the AFC would hover around a city with an inventory of items that could be purchased through Amazon’s website just like any other product. Drones carrying those products would drop from the airship, gliding to their destination while using power only to correct their course and stabilize their landing. The drones would then take off and return to the airship.
Since the drones would primarily be using energy only on their return trip, they would be able to travel greater distances, and the mobility of the airborne warehouse itself would further increase their range. Amazon noted in its filing that it could deploy the airship to different locations based on a number of factors. For example, it might be deployed above a sporting event with a stock of sporting paraphernalia, food products and so on.
Amazon already has its own fleet of planes for delivering consumer products, so adding a few airships to the mix does not seem so farfetched. Airships would also be the perfect platform for this sort of system, as they are able to maintain a relatively fixed position for long periods of time with minimal energy requirements. Amazon also said in its filing that it would use smaller airship shuttles to periodically restock the AFC’s inventory, meaning that the warehouse itself would rarely need to land.
Of course, as cool as Amazon’s idea sounds, there is a good chance that we will never get to see it in action, as companies apply for unusual patents all the time that never see the light of day. We are still waiting for Disney’s system to track park goers by their shoes.