Going beyond the idea of delivery drones, it seems Amazon.com (NASDAQ:AMZN) might be hatching bigger plans for what they describe as “unmanned aerial vehicle assistants” or UAVs.
According to the patent filed by Amazon Technologies, Inc. at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on February 17, 2015 and granted on October 18, 2016, the company has been given permission to build techniques and systems that will enable UAVs to perform a variety of roles that can be helpful to local authorities, as well as ordinary civilians.
Amazon envisions their future Alexa-like digital brain drones to be “smaller, lighter, and less expensive than conventional UAVs.” These miniature voice-activated drones can theoretically be used for different purposes such as locating a car in a crowded parking lot; finding a lost child who accidentally gets separated from his/her parents because of the busy shopping mall crowd; or scouting a long line to know how much waiting time one is facing. Some extreme uses may include spotting fires, support for cops and the military in hostile or dangerous situations, or calling 911 for assistance.
Of the many possible applications mentioned in the patent, one of the most interesting uses involves threat assessment. Acknowledging how some situations may require different vantage points so one can have a clearer view while staying at a safe distance, Amazon says that a UAV with audio, video and data connection that can be controlled remotely will be convenient, even more so when it is small enough to fit in one’s pocket, or carry on one’s shoulders.
Imagine there’s a hostage situation going on. Instead of going in blindly, a police officer can send in his miniature assistant first – a flying, camera-equipped voice-controlled drone that’s docked inconspicuously on top of his shoulders. By saying a specific command, he activates the drone, telling it to fly to a specified location, hover above the scene, and stream live video back to him. With a better look at what’s going on, he will then be able to plan out a more strategic approach to neutralize whatever threat there is, without unnecessarily putting anybody, including himself and his backup, in harm’s way.
Police officers with flying drones on their shoulders – it’s a fascinating possibility isn’t it?
As appealing as Amazon’s ideas might be, however, it has to be said that the concept of flying drones has always evoked different kinds of reactions. Some choose to view the drones’ potential uses in a positive light. Some, on the other hand, choose to dwell on the negative side, which is typically related to privacy and security issues. These opposing sentiments are, of course, understandable.
Right now, it’s just a patent. But a patent is a powerful tool. This is why Amazon must make sure they will develop and innovate around this technology responsibly. Aside from being an online retail store, they now have the potential to make a more meaningful contribution to society.