Amazon has submitted a patent application for a futuristic flying warehouse that floats thousands of feet in the air, from which the online retailer could dispatch swarms of delivery drones to key areas.
The company has patented plans for enormous “airborne fulfillment centres” that would be used as bases for aerial deliveries to homes.
Flying at up to 45,000 feet, the warehouses would be suspended by cables from zeppelin-style airships, and stocked with popular items.
When a shopper makes an order, an onboard drone would dive down to earth and deliver it, before being sent back up to the station by a shuttle that could also restock and refuel the floating warehouse.
The patent describes how “unmanned aerial vehicles” (UAVs) would be able to “descend from the altitude of the [warehouse] with little or no power other than to guide the UAV towards its delivery destination and/or stabilise the UAV as it descends”.
It says the warehouses could float at 45,000 feet above urban areas, above the altitude of commercial aircraft, but descend to 2,000 feet if they need to cover a smaller area such as a dense sporting event or deliver items more quickly.
At this height, they would also be visible, allowing advertising to appear on the warehouse itself. At a lower altitude, drones would be able to deliver perishable food or even prepared meals.
The warehouses could be restocked by shuttles, as shown in the plan below:
The drones and floating warehouse would be connected to servers on the ground by connecting to each other, or via satellite or other wireless connection.
It says one use could be near sporting events or festivals where they would sell food or souvenirs to spectators.
The patent also envisages a series of support vehicles that would be used to restock the flying structures.
In the documents detailing the scheme, Amazon said the combination of drones and flying warehouses, or “airborne fulfilment centres”, would deliver goods much more quickly than those stationed at its ground-based warehouses.
Amazon’s patent was filed in late 2014 but has only now neen revealed after analyst Zoe Leavitt from CB Insights discovered the documents.
— Zoe Leavitt (@zoe_leavitt) December 28, 2016
Amazon has been testing different drone designs for years, and this month completed its first delivery to a farmer in Cambridgeshire. However, its vehicles, which can travel for 10 miles or 30 minutes, face potential problems in urban areas, where there are more hazards and it is more difficult to find warehouse space.