Supply Chain News: Amazon Patent Train for Delivery Technologies Rolls On with Still More …

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Just last week, we reported that on news from December that this past April, had been awarded a US patent for an “aerial fulfillment center” – basically a blimp carrying drones and inventory that would fly to a point of demand and send the drones down from high in the air to deliver parcels to customers.

For all the detail, go here: The Latest Fulfillment Dream – Mobile Distribution Centers

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There is a lot in this patent, and in a few weeks SCDigest will go into more detail on what just could be an important innovation someday in supply chain.

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It turns out that was just one of several other recent patent successes for the on-line giant. We summarize three of these new patented innovations below:

The “Megadrone”: Amazon is developing technology that will allow a flock of drones to fly in a convoy, allowing the machines to cover longer distances and carry heavier loads.

The company has been granted the patent for a large and robust flying drone that is actually made up of several to many smaller drones, or what it call a “collective unmanned aerial vehicle.”

The Amazon patent says that individual drones could detach from the collective drone body (see graphic below) once they were no longer required, allowing them to operate independently to deliver smaller parcels.

The patent description explains that a collective aerial drone would be capable of transporting “virtually any size, weight, or quantity of items” – obviously addressing limitations of deliveries by a single drone.

The average quadcopter drone today can typically fly continuously for up to 30 minutes (so15 minutes out and back each) and can only transport items weighing up to 10 pounds.

Collectively, a group of drones might outperform a single drone by sharing resources, such as power and navigation capabilities, in order to operate more efficiently. In addition, the size of a linked drone array would be more visible, thereby allowing aircraft and air traffic controllers to spot them more easily.

Amazon Megadrone Concept



Source: Amazon Patent Filing

That the collective drone could carry heavier loads of course makes perfect sense, but Amazon believes that networked together, they could also fly longer distances.

Dedicated Networked Delivery System: It turns out that in November, Amazon was awarded another patent for an often underground “dedicated network delivery system” concept.

In the filing, Amazon says the system it envisions “may avoid congestion experienced by traditional transportation networks and enable the delivery of objects from an origin to a destination using one or subterranean or above-ground elements.”

The core problem being addressed, the patent says, is the delays and disruptions common with traditional freight movements, whether it be traffic congestion or a derailed train, noting that much of the problems are the result of mixing freight and non-freight movements (e.g., people travelling) on the same infrastructure.

Amazon, it appears, wants to build a more dedicated freight movement system that would minimize these common delays in the flow of goods.

It gets a little thick, but the filing describes the idea by saying the system would contain “a plurality of subterranean conveyors” that would be connected to a fulfillment center and be used to move packages. It then says such packages might often be loaded onto “powered rail cars.”

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The invention, the patent says, is that the system would enable “the delivery of items, e.g., goods of any kind or sort, in a powered and controlled manner between a source and a destination at a variety of speeds without any interaction, or with minimal interaction, with traditional transportation networks, and with minimal to no human operators.”

It’s hard to know exactly what is going on here, but this graphic from patent filing appears to show goods being moved underground through dedicated pathways, then taken to the surface for customer delivery.

Amazon’s Dedicated Neworked Delivery System



Source: Amazon Patent Filing


There is a lot in this patent, and in a few weeks SCDigest will go into more detail on what just could be an important innovation someday in supply chain.

The full Amazon patent filing can be found here.

Countermeasures to Protect Drone Deliveries: Finally, Amazon has also just received a patent that covers technology to give it extra anti-hacking protections when drones are out doing deliveries.

The ecommerce giant initially filed in 2014 for the patented technology covering “countermeasures of threats to an uncrewed autonomous vehicle [UAV],” and received the patent in December.

Amazon said in the filing that drones can be targets of a “malicious person” using a wireless signal jammer and it indicates there could be “a variety of adverse effects including the UAV crashing.”

The technology patent is based on both a so-called mesh network and the process of several drones communicating with one another through the sharing of data “to confirm or cross-check data such as location, heading, altitude, and so forth” – all designed to detect data differences and possible signs of a drone being compromised.

“Disagreement between data generated by the first UAV with external data from the second UAV may result in the determination that the first UAV is compromised,” the filing notes.

According to the filing, “The countermeasures may reduce or eliminate ill-intentioned acts, inadvertent system failures, or mitigate the impact of such acts or failures. For example, theft of the UAVs or items carried by the UAVs due tampering may be reduced or eliminated.”

It adds that “If a malicious person attempts to gain control of the UAV, the compromise may be detected, and the UAV may enter a fail-safe mode in which the UAV returns to base or lands on the ground.”

Amazon’s innovation train sure continues to roll on.

Any reaction to any or all of the Amazon patent filings? How can one company produce so much innovation? Let us know your thoughts at the Feedback section below or the link above to send an email.


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