Amazon patent takes distribution centers to the skies

Dive Brief:

  • In its quest to dominate delivery demand, Amazon has filed a patent outlining a potential floating delivery apparatus, or a warehouse resembling a blimp, engadget reported last week. 
  • The blimps would serve large, crowded venues, such as concerts like Coachella or massive sporting events. Shuttle-supported drones would descend with food or other items to a designated delivery site.  
  • Not only will the blimps display advertising, but will also be network-connected. Further, both supplies and even people could be ferried aboard via the aforementioned shuttles.

Dive Insight:

Amazon clearly believes the future of fulfillment is by air. Not only did it patent the flying warehouse, but it also recently won a patent for drone cybersecurity. The previous year also marked significant investments in air capacity, notably through its Prime Air program, drone tests in the U.K. and reports show the company has brought significant traffic to airports in the Lehigh Valley. 

The idea for cargo blimps is not new, either. In fact, Lockheed Martin recently ordered seven such air freighters to help deliver raw materials from remote sites, thereby avoiding other air and land infrastructure investments.

Amazon's Patent for a flying warehouse

Yet Amazon's investments come at a cost, and despite the e-retailer's ambitions, the idea for a flying warehouse may remain more a pipe dream (as most other patents) than practical solution. 

Retail Dive reports doubts over the feasibility of drone delivery increased this year when it became apparent that U.S. regulations governing drone delivery would take longer to sort out than Amazon and other drone delivery hopefuls had hoped. There's also a big difference between utilizing drones and deploying a flying delivery warehouse. Logistics are extremely complex,  not simply for loading the floating dispenser. For example, since the warehouse is mainly intended for crowded, and therefore rowdy venues, coordinating pick up could be a challenge few companies may want to undertake. 

But the e-commerce giant isn't the only company with big drone delivery plans. Drone delivery firm Flirtey completed 77 product deliveries by drone in November to about a dozen different customers on behalf of a nearby 7-Eleven store. Only time will tell, but if the theory does become practical, Amazon will have a leg up due to its newest patent.

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Filed Under: Logistics Technology
Top image credit: Amazon / USPTO