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Supply Chain News: More Unusual Patents for eCommerce Deliveries from Amazon


Use of OnDemand Air Bags to Cushion Dropped Parcels, and Drones that Interpret Human Hand Gestures


March 27, 2018
SCDigest Editorial Staff

Another month, another set of patent for efulfillment from Amazon, as usual with a bit of a unusual twist to them.

First, news that Amazon has received patent for ecommerce deliveries involving use of an on-demand air bag to protect parcels being dropped from the sky by drones, or what Amazon always refers to in these things as unmanned aerial vehicles or UAVs.

Supply Chain Digest Says...

SCDigest has no idea if this one will ever see the light of day in terms of actual deployment, but this one seems pretty practical compared to some.

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Why not just land the drone instead? That takes extra time, and can be tricky in windy conditions. It also uses precious batery power. Better to just drop the delivery from heights ranging from 5 to maybe 25 feet depending on the size and weight of the package, the Amazon patent says.

The successful patent describes an airlift package protection airbag, or APP, that would be wrapped around a package that’s due to go out on a drone for delivery.

The invention is that an opening on the bag would be hooked up to a fan-driven inflation device. Just before the drone drops the package to a delivery site, the bag would be inflated and sealed up to add an extra layer of pillowy protection.

Amazon says that its airbags Amazon would deflate a bit upon the package hitting the ground to cushion the landing and protect a contents of the parcel.

The patent says the UAVs could also use cameras and other sensors to make sure the drop zone is clear of people, animals and “fragile objects,” and then decline to make the delivery until it sees the drop zone is clear.

Why not just put sufficient plastic foam or bubble wrap around a packaged item before it’s flown you might be asking? Because that adds size and weight, which could run down a drone battery too quickly, and the larger package in flight would create additional wind resistance.

This patent, similar to others Amazon has received, also envisions the possibility of catastrophic mid-air failure. To minimize damage to the drone and anything or anyone on the ground, the airbag for the package could also wrap around part of the drone, and be inflated automatically if the aircraft loses power or flies out of control, according to the patent.

Amazon Drones Could Use Airbags to Cushion Fall of Dropped Parcels


As with all of these exotic Amazon patents, SCDigest has no idea if this one will ever see the light of day in terms of actual deployment, but this one seems pretty practical compared to some, such as the blimp beehive that would carry drones near to areas of demand.

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Meanwhile, Amazon received another patent for a delivery drone that can respond to human gestures.

Why is that needed, you may ask? Amazon says the patent may help it grapple with how UAVs might interact with human bystanders and customers waiting on their doorsteps.

Depending on a person's gestures, such as a welcoming thumbs-up, angry shouting or frantic arm waving - the drone might adjust its behavior, according to the filing. The drone for example could release the package it's carrying, change its flight path to avoid crashing, ask humans a question or abort the delivery.

"The human recipient and/or the other humans can communicate with the vehicle using human gestures to aid the vehicle along its path to the delivery location," the Amazon patent says.

Using an array of different sensors, the drones would be able to recognize hand and body gestures, human voices and movement, such as a person walking closer to the drone or away from it.

Along with the filing was the rather humorous illustration you see below:


Amazon Drone Might Interpret Human Gestures



Yet another illustration portrays the sequence of steps a drone would take when reading human body language as it delivers packages, such as: "Receive human gesture"; "access gesture database"; "determine human gesture based on gesture database"; "proceed in accordance with determined human gesture and delivery instructions."

This one seems a bit far out to SCDigest, but then again at the pace artificial intelligence seems to be advancing, these smart gesture-reading drones might indeed be right around the corner.

Any reaction to these Amazon patents? Let us know your thoughts at the Feedback section below.


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