Amazon's intentions to deliver packages by drone have been common knowledge for a while now, but over the last few months these plans have begun to seem more of a realistic possibility than a pipe dream.
In December Amazon successfully completed a trial drone delivery to a customer in Cambridge, and later that month the news broke that Amazon had filed a patent in 2014 for a huge 'airborne fulfilment centre' (basically a flying warehouse), consisting of a fleet of delivery drones housed in an airship.
It has now emerged that Amazon has also filed a patent for parachute aided delivery of packages from a drone. Instead of wasting valuable battery power landing in your garden and taking off again, the drone would simply release the package which would gently float into your garden, guided and assisted by a few nifty features to help it stay on course (such as steering fins and puffs of compressed air).
For me the concepts behind these patents sound a bit bonkers, and conjure up images of films like 'Blade Runner' and 'The Fifth Element'. However, there is a real commercial point to Amazon's ambitious patent filings – if drone delivery really does take off (excuse the pun), it may turn out that by patenting key processes and solutions that make drone deliveries possible, Amazon could have effectively ring-fenced the technology for a while and stolen a huge march on the competition. This is, no doubt, the intention.
However, it's not all about basic capability – despite Amazon's efforts to shore up its intellectual property in delivery drone technology, there will be many more hurdles (both practical and legal) it has to face before parachuting parcels become a feature of our skies. For example:
A new regulatory regime governing the use of drones still needs to be established, and so the impact of this is unknown.
Safety will be a concern, and along with it liability (and the availability of insurance) for injuries and damage to property caused by delivery drones.
Security and navigation issues – above all how drones can be kept out of sensitive airspace such as that over airports, Parliament, Buckingham Palace etc.
Compliance with privacy laws, particularly where drones navigate using cameras or other imaging devices.
Objections from the public – this is likely to be a big one, as inevitably many people will be uncomfortable with the idea, and could seek to oppose the use of delivery drones based on existing laws such as trespass and nuisance.
Ultimately, it's likely to be a while before drone deliveries become the norm, but clearly there's some exciting stuff going on at Amazon's R&D department...
Amazon has filed a patent for its drones to deliver online purchases with the aid of parachutes. This means Amazon’s drones would be able deliver goods without needing to land on properties, thanks to the help of parachutes slowing the descent of parcels and keeping the items intact. There is also a second aspect of the patent to ensure the parcels are delivered properly and safe from strong gusts of winds – via the remote deployment of a number of methods, such as bursts of compressed air to sticking out flaps to ensure its descent is done safely and stays on course. The patent also aims to ensure that the package can be dropped in motion without continuing the same trajectory as the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV).