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Super Drones: Amazon Plans for Collective Drone Delivery

In a patent filing dated Thursday, Amazon says it wants to build a “collective” unmanned aerial vehicle by having smaller drones stick together in various configurations.

By Angel Gonzalez, The Seattle Times / December 30, 2016

(TNS) -- SEATTLE — Amazon.com scientists have dreamed up a scheme straight out of “Voltron,” a 1980s animated show for kids where several vehicles joined together to form an evil-fighting super-robot. In this case it’s a super-drone.

In a patent filing dated Thursday, the e-commerce giant says it wants to build a “collective” unmanned aerial vehicle by having smaller drones stick together in various configurations. That would allow the super-drone to carry “virtually any size, weight, or quantity of items, travel longer distances, etc.,” the application reads. The drones can also fly together somewhere and then decouple to make individual deliveries.

The idea would allow Amazon to field just one type of drone, instead of several types in which each is designed to carry different types of packages or travel at various distances. It’s just another patent from a company that files plenty of them, but it shows how busily Amazon is thinking about the drone delivery program first announced by CEO Jeff Bezos in 2013.

Drones are important to Amazon because their widespread use would allow the company to bring down its last-mile delivery costs from a few dollars to a few cents for each package. The first commercial drone delivery took place this month in the U.K.

The “collective” drone idea follows another interesting scheme depicted in an Amazon patent document published in April: flying warehouses held aloft by blimps.

It would float above a city at 45,000 feet of height, and hold not only thousands of items, but a fleet of drones. Gravity would make the drones more energy efficient, as they wouldn’t have to power up until they’re close to the ground. The drones could make their way back to the mothership in a shuttle, accompanied by packages and workers not afraid of heights. It can move to hover over other cities based on demand.

One can only imagine the jungle of actual technological implementation and regulation such a venture would encounter in order to become reality. So it might remain in the realm of science fiction for a while.

©2016 The Seattle Times Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.