Key takeaways

  • Amazon’s patent for drone technology reveal details of autonomous aircraft
  • Plans include GPS tracking of customer’s location to enable deliveries to be made almost anywhere
  • Consumers welcome drone deliveries but regulations in US remain strict

The details of Amazon’s plans for its drone delivery service have been released by the US Patent and Trademark Office.

Amazon filed its drone patent in September 2014 as part of its efforts to gain approval by the US Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) for widespread use of commercial drones, also known as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).

It hopes to use the drones to autonomously deliver goods to customers in a service known as Prime Air, which was first announced in December 2013.

Amazon has been one of the pioneers in this technology, which is increasingly seen as a viable proposition for retailers to address delivery solutions.

The patent, which you can view in full here, has been granted – although this doesn’t necessarily mean that the final product will fit the same description, reports the BBC.

Deliveries by air, wherever you are

Amazon’s patent plans reveal that drones would communicate with customers via their smartphone, adjusting the delivery destination by using GPS tracking to seek out their location in what the company calls its ‘Bring It To Me’ service. Drones would be able to collect goods from either a warehouse or a third-party seller.

Delivery drones would also be able to communicate weather conditions and route navigation information to each other. The devices would be operated autonomously however pilots could be used to land them, after which the landing information would be saved and automatically deployed for future deliveries.

The patent filing did not specify one type of device. Instead, Amazon plans to deploy a number of different drones to suit a range of delivery sizes.

Consumers welcome drone delivery

Using drones to make deliveries is an idea apparently welcomed by consumers. A recent report by Walker Sands found that two thirds of consumers expect to see the technology in action in the next five years. However employing drones for commercial use still has a number of regulatory hurdles to overcome in the US, where the FAA recently proposed rules that won’t allow delivery by unmanned aircraft until at least 2017.

In March, Amazon was granted permission to test drones in the US at a height of less than 400ft and only if it remained within the pilot’s sight. Until then it had been testing the technology in Canada, which has less stringent airspace regulations.

Here in Australia, a Queensland farmer has already experienced a drone delivery service. In August 2014, Google revealed it had secretly been working on a two-year project called Project Wing, which had been making autonomous deliveries to his remote homestead. The initiative took advantage of the more flexible laws governing drone use in this country.

There are predictions that regulations here may become more strict in future, however a spokesperson for the Civil Aviation and Safety Authority told SmartupSmart it is unlikely any changes will be imposed in 2015.

Drones for non-military purposes are enjoying significant uptake. Currently a US$2.5 billion global industry, the market is expected to rise by 15%-20% per year. Commercial applications, particularly in countries like Australia and the UK, continue to increase. A reflection of the market’s popularity, this month sees the launch of Drone magazine, Australia’s first print edition dedicated to the industry.



Tan Allaway

Tan Allaway is a former editor of PwC’s Digital Pulse.

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