Amazon.com, Inc. (NASDAQ:AMZN) is taking to the skies to make deliveries using its own fleet of drones, but how? A newly granted patent reveals more information about the online retailer’s top-secret project. According to the filing with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, the drones could hitch rides on buses and trucks en route to the delivery location.
The application, which was filed in March of last year by Amazon’s Prime Air division executives, seeks to allow drones to ride other vehicles to get closer to their delivery destinations or return from completed deliveries. The move is meant to conserve energy and provide options for emergency landings in case the drone comes across problems during the delivery.
So, how will Amazon plan to pull this off? According to Amazon execs, the company could ink a deal with various transportation bureaus as well as shipping companies to give permission to land drones on vehicles in exchange for compensation, among other things. The drones could use their identifying markings and GPS coordinates to seek vehicles to land on.
To land, the delivery aircraft could send a message to the driver or transportation vehicle. Once the drone receives the permission for landing, the driver or transportation vehicle will confirm that the drone has docked with the vehicle successfully. If the delivery aircraft’s battery is about to die or mechanical problems occur, Amazon would arrange for the drone to land on the nearest vehicle. An Amazon personnel could set up a meeting with the driver to retrieve the aircraft at a set location.
Through this suggested system, Amazon could develop a database of vehicles it has landing agreements with. The data will be used to determine and monitor routes for possible drone landings. In addition, the e-commerce giant can choose to send the drones to meet docking vehicles at a set spot if said vehicles will arrive at a certain place at a selected time.
In the filing, Amazon noted that it has considered a variety of factors to determine whether or not a vehicle is eligible as a drone dock: vehicle travel path in relation to the package destination; timing of routes versus delivery timeframe; and travel speed of possible landing vehicles.
In 2013, Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos announced plans to add drone deliveries to the co.’s delivery options. Since then, the online retailer’s plans have accelerated. This, despite a regulatory setback last June. The FAA does not permit commercial drones to travel beyond the visual light of sight of the operator. The agency also bans flights over people who are not involved in the drone operation.
When the regulatory ruling was announced, Amazon threatened to take its drone delivery project overseas as according to the company, the regulations in the US were becoming too limited. Although the decision was a major setback for Amazon, the FAA did say that they could waive it if the operation of the delivery aircraft is proven safe.
Amazon recently published information about the company’s drone delivery operations as well as drone prototypes as part of its campaign to make drone delivery happen. Previously released publications have featured more information about the drones, including how the aircraft charges itself, how drones use GPS coordinates to make deliveries, and more.