It looks like Amazon has figured out a way to expand the delivery range of its Prime Air drones.
They want to build docking stations on anything tall that has power running through it.
Amazon was recently awarded a patent for “multi-use UAV docking stations and methods,” and the plan goes something like this.
They’re going to create perches for their drones that can be placed on top of things like cell towers and lampposts.
Buildings would be fair game, too, and Amazon also mentions setting up new, dedicated poles for these docking stations in “underserved areas.”
Currently, a Prime Air delivery drone’s range is rather limited. About the best one can manage is a few miles away from Amazon’s warehouse.
These docking stations would change that: if a drone starts running low on power it can head to one of the docks for a quick recharge.
To get them back up in the air quickly, the drones could be equipped with modular power packs.
When one lands on the dock, it swaps a depleted cell for one that’s fully-charged and heads back out on its delivery.
These wouldn’t necessarily be ordinary batteries, either. Amazon’s patent mentions using fuels cells, too, which would give the drones even greater range.
The stations will also be networked, which will help Amazon keep close tabs on the activity of its fleet of autonomous helpers - and ensure that the right drone is handling a delivery.
If weather conditions make things too hard on a smaller drone that’s headed to your house, it could drop the parcel on a dock and hand the delivery off to a larger drone that can handle stronger winds.
The patent, like many patents, doesn’t necessarily mean that a perch system will ever be put into place.
Instead, it shows that Amazon is thinking about drone delivery in a holistic way, imagining and plotting the full steps needed to turn buzzing warehouse robots into functional mechanical postmen.
The docking stations on streetlights is a good first step. Covering a skyscraper in drone landing pads in the logical and maybe inevitable conclusion.
Related: Walmart Testing Warehouse Drones to Catalog and Manage Inventory