- Two recent patents granted to Amazon by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office paint a picture of a future where fulfillment and delivery happen in mid-air.
- The first patent, granted in July, is for an airborne fulfillment center suspended by a blimp-like aircraft. The second, granted Tuesday, is for drones that recharge while in the air using power generated by a wind turbine.
- The drone patent explains that the UAV will autonomously make decisions, even altering its flight plan, in order to find optimum conditions for charging from wind power.
In 2013, Jeff Bezos went on 60 Minutes and said that drone delivery would be viable in four to five years.
"It will work and it will happen and it's going to be a lot of fun," Bezos told Charlie Rose. But we've already surpassed Bezos' five-year guess — "I'm an optimist," he said.
Over a year ago when the patent application for the blimp-warehouse was filed, it became clear that drone delivery would be necessary to make these "aerial fulfillment centers" viable. But the idea of drone delivery becoming a reality seemed much more remote than it does today, since the Department of Transportation and the Federal Aviation Administration had made little progress putting the proper regulations in place to make it possible.
Today, the FAA has a robust pilot program running for various drone applications, including parcel delivery, with an eye toward creating federal, state and local rules.
But regulation isn't the only challenge facing drone delivery. Modern, commercial quality drones still have a maximum battery life of no more than 30 minutes. That could work at large populous events like music festivals or sporting events if the fulfillment blimp hovered above or near the crowd — a possibility mentioned in the patent application. For parcel deliveries to homes within 10 miles of a fulfillment center (airborne or not) as Bezos predicted on 60 Minutes, longer battery life is key. Drones that can recharge in the air or away from home base could conquer this major challenge.
Amazon has already taken to the skies in one capacity with its Prime Air cargo program, which reportedly had 767 deliveries scheduled this year. And the company isn't only looking up for the future of fulfillment. Back in 2016 Amazon was granted a patent for underground delivery too.