Amazon has been granted a patent for a drone delivery system that may give a hint of what's to come for Amazon Prime Air.
Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezon unveiled the drone delivery service Prime Air in December 2013, positioning it as a way of delivering parcels to customers at home. However, if some of the details in a patent recently granted to Amazon by the US Patent Office come to fruition, the company will develop a mobile delivery service which can deliver a parcel to the buyer within 30 minutes, no matter where they are.
In one scenario detailed in the patent, Amazon offers drone delivery to a user's home, work, or boat, all relying on the buyer's smartphone to provide GPS data which allows the company to pinpoint where the drone should deliver goods.
There'd be no need for the buyer to remain stationary either. "The user may place an order for an item while at home, select to have the item delivered to their current location (delivery within 30 minutes of the order), and then leave to go to their friend's house, which is three blocks away from their home," Amazon said. The drone would follow the phone's coordinates and deliver it to the buyer's friend's house.
Amazon's Prime Air ambitions still face regulatory hurdles before the drones can hit the skies in a commercial capacity - though it's recently been given some breathing space by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to begin testing.
The company last year petitioned the FAA for permission to test its drones, seeking an exception to the current ban on their commercial use.
Amazon's patent also details a number of methods to increase the safety of using drones: for example, minimising time spent flying over roads that are used by cars, and, if drones must fly over a road, crossing at a right angle. Drones could also feed information to each other about weather, landing conditions, and traffic, and constantly monitor humans and animals in their path. Amazon is also open to the possibility of a remote user providing landing instructions.
The FAA has issued a number of responses to the use of drones in the US in recent months, including investigating the drone that crashed on the White House lawn recently and relaxing some restrictions on commercial drone use.
In March it also granted Amazon Logistics an "experimental airworthiness certificate" that allows it to test a particular design so long as flights are controlled by a person with a private pilot's certificate, and the drone remains below 400 feet during daylight hours and is always in sight.
Read more on drones