Amazon wins patent for flying warehouse

Bradley Wint
Dec 29, 2016 10:51pm AST
Photo: Unknown

First there were drones, now there are going to be flying warehouses?

In an effort to cut down on delivery time to its customers, Amazon secured a patent to bring its warehouses closer to consumers.

Described as an “airborne fulfillment center ” or AFC, the floating airships are expected to hover somewhere around 45,000 feet in convenient locations. Drones will then be used to pick up goods at these AFCs and deliver them to consumers (at specific drop off points).

I guess this solves the problem of the limited range of drones?

According to the patent, smaller shuttles will be used to replenish the facility, including restocking items, and bringing fuel, UAVs, and other supplies.

Described is an airborne fulfillment center (“AFC”) and the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (“UAV”) to deliver items from the AFC to users. For example, the AFC may be an airship that remains at a high altitude (e.g., 45,000 feet) and UAVs with ordered items may be deployed from the AFC to deliver ordered items to user designated delivery locations. As the UAVs descend, they can navigate horizontally toward a user specified delivery location using little to no power, other than to stabilize the UAV and/or guide the direction of descent. Shuttles (smaller airships) may be used to replenish the AFC with inventory, UAVs, supplies, fuel, etc. Likewise, the shuttles may be utilized to transport workers to and from the AFC.

The patent also speaks to other uses such as at football games. It can be used to distribute sporting fan gear, food products, and other related items.

The use of an AFC and shuttles also provides another benefit in that the AFC can remain airborne for extended periods of time. In addition, because the AFC is airborne, it is not limited to a fixed location like a traditional ground based materials handling facility. In contrast, it can navigate to different areas depending on a variety of factors, such as weather, expected demand, and/or actual demand.

An AFC may navigate to an area based on various positioning factors. For example, a temporal event (e.g., a football game) may be expected to produce a demand for certain types of items (e.g., sporting paraphernalia, food products, etc.). In advance of the event, the items may be delivered to the AFC in a quantity sufficient to satisfy the expected demand and the AFC may navigate to a position such that UAVs deployed from the AFC can safely navigate to the location of the event and deliver the items, thereby satisfying the demand. In some implementations, the AFC may navigate to a lower altitude and provide advertising for the temporal event or for other occasions (e.g., product announcements, product releases, sales).

There is no time frame as to when this concept may become reality, but at the rate Amazon is pushing to improve its business, the first iteration of a floating warehouse may be just around the corner a few years from now.

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