Say you're tailgating at a 49ers game and, what do you know, you managed to forget the mustard. What to do? In today's stone-age reality, you're probably forced to borrow the condiment from your parking-lot neighbors. However, if Amazon has its way, that approach could soon be a thing of the past. Consumerist reports that the company has patented the idea of blimp warehouses floating over densely populated areas and events — allowing for the rapid deployment of delivery drones to fulfill all your last minute shopping needs.
The company calls the floating warehouses "airborne fulfillment centers," and hopes that by situating a delivery hub directly above customers it can both reduce shipping times and the energy needed to fly the drones. By using gravity for the flight down — the drones would essentially glide and use only small amounts of power for navigating purposes — Amazon drones get a practically free ride.
"[The] AFC may be an airship that remains at a high altitude (e.g., 45,000 feet) and [Unmanned Aerial Vehicles] with ordered items may be deployed from the AFC to deliver ordered items to user designated delivery locations," the patent explains. "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. Shuttles (smaller airships) may be used to replenish the AFC with inventory, UAVs, supplies, fuel, etc."
Amazon has successfully tested delivery drones, albeit in a very limited capacity, and as this patent shows clearly believes there is a future for goods delivered by flying robots. However, just like with its giant land-based fulfillment warehouses, the AFC has a place for human workers. That's right, Amazon wants to put its notoriously overworked employees 45,000 feet in the air to ensure you get your merchandise just a tad bit faster.
"Because of the high altitude of the AFC, navigation by a UAV back to the AFC may not be feasible, or an efficient use of power," the patent tells us. "Accordingly, a replenishment shuttle may be provided at a shuttle replenishment location that is configured to transport inbound items (e.g., UAVs, inventory, workers, supplies, fuel) to the AFC and retrieve outbound items (e.g., overstock inventory, transshipments, workers, waste) from the AFC."
To be sure, as Gizmodo points out many patents are never actually turned into real products, and likewise Amazon's airborne fulfillment centers may just be a pipe dream. Either way, as delivery drones from multiple companies take to the skies, it's worth remembering that the products being shipped to your door have to be picked up from somewhere — and in the future that somewhere might be a giant blimp floating right above your tailgating head.United States Patent and Trademark Office.