Online retailer Amazon has disclosed full details of a concept for delivering packages with unmanned air vehicles in a US patent application published on 30 April.
Amazon founder Jeff Bezos first announced plans to deliver packages with small octorotor UAVs in a 2013 interview with 60 Minutes, but the company had kept silent on how the package delivery concept would work.
But newly-published patent application – titled “unmanned air vehicle delivery system" – describes a complete system with a customer interface, route planning, inventory tracking, in-flight navigation and completing delivery.
The concept anticipates that a “remote entity” would control the UAV at the delivery point to select a safe landing site. That information would be stored and used to make future deliveries automatically, the application says.
As the aircraft navigates to the delivery site, Amazon envisions making adjustments to the route in real-time. Some would be driven through communications with other UAVs in the same area, which would provide updates on weather and ground traffic.
The UAV also would monitor the ground to avoid flying over people and animals, according to the Amazon concept. The flying delivery vehicles may have to pass over roads with moving ground vehicles, but Amazon’s plan is to minimise the overflight time by only crossing over roads at a perpendicular angle.
Amazon also discloses an image of an octorotor UAV delivery platform that appears similar to the aircraft design shown in the 60 Minutes interview.
The application says that multiple UAVs of various sizes could be used to deliver packages. As an order arrives at a warehouse, an automated system would decide which platform would be required to lift the payload. It would also determine the route and check whether the UAV has enough power. Amazon also anticipates a network of relay stations where packages could be transferred from vehicles with little power remaining to a fully charged aircraft.
Although the patent application suggests Amazon has a fully defined concept, the US Federal Aviation Administration still bans most operations of UAVs for commercial purposes.
Nothing in the Amazon concept suggests that the air vehicles would remain within the line of sight of the operator, as envisioned now by the FAA’s proposed rules governing the operation of small UAVs in the national airspace.