Amazon awarded patent for flying warehouse

As the e-commerce giant gets closer to establishing a drone delivery system, it may one day keep its inventory airborne.
Written by Stephanie Condon, Senior Writer

Amazon's depiction of an airborne fulfillment center carrying unmanned aerial vehicles for item delivery.

As Amazon inches closer to establishing a drone delivery system, the e-commerce giant may one day keep its inventory in the sky.

The US Patent Office earlier this year awarded Amazon a patent for an airborne fulfillment center (AFC) from which drones could launch to make local deliveries. The AFC could sit at an altitude of about 45,000 feet, the patent explains, allowing unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to be stocked and deployed as necessary.

"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," the patent says. "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."

Aside from saving power, the patent explained other benefits of an AFC, such as the ability to position one close to certain areas at specific times. "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.)."

Additionally, using AFCs could expand the kinds of inventory that Amazon could deliver via drones to include things like perishable items or prepared meals.

Another Amazon patent published this year describes the company's plans to add UAV docking stations to buildings, power poles, street lights, and cell towers.

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