This is Patent Pending. Supply-chain-related patent applications are published every day and this is where we'll talk about the ones that could have the biggest impact on the supply chain in addition to the ones that challenge the norm. Read the previous issue here.
With their powers combined, they are a collective drone
For Amazon, little drones could do some heavy lifting.
That’s what a patent application published Jan. 19 suggests, with drones coming together to deliver larger orders. The filing details a "collective" drone, or unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), that transports a wide range of items by not being limited to the capabilities of a single drone.
"For example, rather than using one large UAV to carry a larger or heavier item, multiple smaller UAVs may couple together to form a collective UAV that is used to carry the larger or heavier item," the filing said.
The application shows various configurations for a collective drone, ranging from a flying V to a cube made up of 24 individual drones.
But the range of configurations has a purpose. Instead of juggling multiple drone types or having to keep a rarely used drone type on standby, an operator could instead configure its drones in whatever way is necessary to complete a delivery.
Navigating as a collective drone also allows the coupled drones to share resources, reduce energy consumption and be more visible to other aircraft and air traffic control. The filing details ways drones can communicate to determine if they should form a collective drone.
"Flight plans may be determined to be complementary if the UAVs … are navigating in a similar direction, toward a similar destination (e.g., materials handling facility, delivery area, etc.), coupling would result in a net power savings, coupling would result in increased safety, coupling would result in faster aerial transport, etc.," per the filing.
- What drone companies need to do to reach lofty delivery goals
- Amazon showcases new Prime Air delivery drone design
- MightyFly unveils second-generation drone for express logistics
Determining shipping speeds to display to shoppers
Meeting the delivery expectations of online shoppers across the U.S. while keeping shipping costs to a minimum is a tall order, but a patent application from Walmart details a possible solution to that juggling act. The outlined system could dynamically determine shipping speeds to show shoppers based on information ranging from fulfillment center capacity to carrier pickup and delivery schedules.
"In some embodiments, the techniques provided herein can beneficially reduce shipping costs while continuing to offer a very large number of items to most users with free two-day shipping," per the application, published Jan. 19.
One way the system could cut costs is by determining if delivery to a ZIP code could be met through a non-upgraded shipping method in the needed time frame, such as ground transportation instead of air shipping.
The proposed patent also details how the system could determine the shipping speed to display to the user. It could be based on an item classification system, fulfillment nodes that can deliver the item to the user's ZIP code and inventory levels within those nodes. Then, the website could display the shipping speed of the item to the user's ZIP code.
Under the item classification system, a product may fall under an "always two-day" classification, for example. Criteria could include the product exceeding a predetermined price or sale margin threshold, being sortable or being categorized as high-value. Meanwhile, items classified as "never two-day" could include bulky, non-sortable products like furniture.