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Amazon To Airdrop Packages From Floating Blimp Warehouses?

Pranshu Rathi

Indicative of a novel, futurist approach, Amazon is working to create giant blimp-shaped warehouses that would fly at 45,000 feet and use guided unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to deliver products with precision, according to a patent filed by the company that was approved quietly in April this year.

The U.S. patent 9,305,280 filed by Amazon Technologies Inc. for “aerial fulfillment centers”(AFCs) — the warehouse blimps — designed to permanently float, was submitted on behalf of inventors Paul William Berg, Scott Isaacs and Kelsey Lynn Blodgett, and granted April 5. The information only came to light this week.

According to the patent’s abstract, the blimps would employ UAVs that behave much like guided bombs to deliver products to customers, “using gravity to propel them downwards at an angle using hardly any energy, adjusting course with just minor aerodynamic shifts”, according to a report in Inverse.

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The depiction of the concept of Amazon's giant blimp-warehouse or “aerial fulfillment centers,” as filed by the company with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Photo: United States Patent and Trademark Office

“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. Likewise, the shuttles may be utilized to transport workers to and from the AFC,” reads the abstract.

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A smaller "shuttle" airship could dock with the larger warehouse to perhaps transport workers to and from the AFC and to also to resupply and refuel it so that it continues to float permanently. Photo: United States Patent and Trademark Office

However, not everything may go according to the company's plan. The Federal Aviation Administration announced rules in June mandating UAVs to be flown within direct line of sight of the pilot. Given the height at which Amazon is planning its blimp, that will become impossible to adhere to.

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The concept of a flat top quadcopter, also called a quadrotor helicopter or quadrotor, submitted by Amazon to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Photo: United States Patent and Trademark Office

While many questions regarding the viability and efficacy of the project still linger, it is nonetheless a novel idea.

History buffs will recollect (and the other can read about) the incredible technological ingenuity required some 68 years ago to execute the Berlin Airlift (1948-49) in the midst of the Berlin Blockade at the height of the Cold War. Picture people living in war-ravaged West Berlin who were airdropped about 8,893 tons of necessities — such as fuel and food — in 1948 by Western Allies who painstakingly flew over 200,000 flights in one year.

Now imagine ordering something online and have it fall from the sky, in just a few minutes. Then you can truly appreciate the futuristic innovation being undertaken by Amazon.

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