Nation & World

Amazon looks at dropping packages from as high as 25 feet

An Amazon delivery drone is seen in this undated handout photo.  REUTERS/Amazon
An Amazon delivery drone is seen in this undated handout photo. REUTERS/Amazon

It’s not that drones get tired, it’s just that if they’re delivering your box of cat food and low-rise socks, dropping down to put it on your patio and flying back up for the next delivery takes power that they need to conserve.

Better to just hover over your home and drop the box, a new patent from Amazon proposes.

Amazon on Tuesday received a patent for cushioning packages with inflatable air bags, so they can be dropped from as high as 25 feet.

The drone could inflate the “airlift package protection air bag” with a gas canister or even just from the downdraft from the aircraft’s propellers, while in transit or “near a drop location, such as a backyard or patio of a residential dwelling,” the patent said.

This patent, like at least two others Amazon has received, also envisions the possibility of catastrophic mid-air failure. The air bag for the package could be inflated automatically if an unmanned-aerial vehicle “becomes unresponsive to controls and/or loses some or all power” if the drone “contacts an object, a building, and/or the ground.”

In addition, the drone could use cameras and other sensors to make sure the “drop zone” is empty of people, animals and “fragile objects,” and decline to make the delivery till all is clear, according to the patent.

A drone even could be constructed in such a way that it could let loose a package that would travel “partially horizontally,” to land on “an elevated balcony of a tall building.”

The air bag Amazon envisions would deflate slightly upon impact with the ground to cushion the landing and protect a package’s contents.

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Energy consumption is an important consideration for drones, which “may conserve energy if they minimize changes in altitude,” the patent says in explaining why dropping packages from the sky makes sense.

Height range for the release of packages from a drone would range from five to 25 feet, “depending on the size and weight of the package.”

Amazon, keenly focused on automation and cheap, efficient product delivery, has obtained dozens of drone-related patents in recent years, but it remains to be seen whether any of them will lead to technology used in drone deliveries.

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