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Supply Chain News: Amazon Files Patent for Urban Drone "Beehive," includes Plans for Redundant Propulsion Systems


Need to Go Up in Urban Areas, Amazon Says, with Plans to Reduce Drone Noise and Increase Safety

July 5, 2017
SCDigest Editorial Staff

Late last year, Amazon received a patent for what it called an "airborne fulfillment center," which was basically a blimp or airship that would carry inventory and drones close to a delivery area, where drones would then launch to deliver orders. Among the applications envisioned was to serve customers gathered at a major event, say tailgating for a sporting match or another. (See The Latest Fulfillment Dream - Mobile Distribution Centers.)

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The patent also envisions increasing the safety of drones through use of multiple sets of rotors and motors, so that if one set fails, the other can take over.

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Now, Amazon has filed for a US patent for another idea for getting drones closer to customers - a vertical warehouse some are dubbing a drone "beehive."

Drones have a limited delivery range - now roughly 10 miles or so - and Amazon is also pushing for ever faster deliveries - in as little as one hour or even 30 minutes. One way to address both issues of course is to position drones and supporting inventory closer to where the customers are.

But real estate in urban areas is expensive and limited, which is why for two centuries the answer is to build up.

And that is what the Amazon June patent filing envisions multi-story drone centers could be built vertically, rather than horizontally, allowing them to be placed within "downtown districts and/or other densely populated urban areas."

Amazon-s application includes graphics of a number of differently shaped buildings and interior views, and illustrates how workers would load-up the drones with packages. (See one illustration from the patent application published below.)

It includes in its claims that the multi-level structure would involve an "exterior shell includes with levels having a hub and spoke design, including multiple spokes that span out from the hub, each of the spokes and the hub having interior space configured to support fulfillment operations, and wherein the spokes internally include [unmanned aerial vehicles] UAV service sites.


The patent also says the fulfillment centers would likely have customer self-service capabilities, getting their orders from secure lockers or similar approach, as shown in the bottom right of the illustration below.


Amazon's Vision for Vertical Urban Drone Centers



Source: Amazon US Patent Application


The patent also describes a sophisticated control system that for example would open a specific door to the fulfillment center automatically as a drone approaches, and enable drones to navigate internally inside the structure.

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Interestingly, the patent filing also includes concepts for reducing the noise and danger from having perhaps hundreds of drones flying around heavily populated areas. For example, the patent details Amazon-s ideas for custom rotor designs that would move through the air more quietly, accomplished by adding "trailing edge fringes," "leading edge serrations," "sound dampening treatments," and "blade indentations for sound control."

All of these approaches focus on the same basic idea: breaking up the airflow around propellers to try and alter or reduce the sound they make.

The patent also envisions increasing the safety of drones through use of multiple sets of rotors and motors, so that if one set fails, the other can take over.

As with the fulfillment center blimps, it is impossible to know whether the drone beehive will ever see the light of day, but as always Amazon keeps the innovative ideas flowing.

Any reaction to this latest Amazon patent filing? Will it likely ever become a reality? Let us know your thoughts at the Feedback section below or the link above to send an email.


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