The United States Patent Office issued Amazon with a multi-use UAV docking system patent last week. US patent number 9387928, filed by Amazon in December of 2014, provides an interesting insight into Amazon Prime Air’s thinking regarding potential delivery drone infrastructure in urban areas.
The patent’s abstract gives a good summary of the purpose and functionality of these docking stations:
Systems and methods for providing a series of multiuse UAV docking stations are disclosed. The docking stations can be networked with a central control and plurality of UAVs. The docking stations can include a number of services to facilitate both UAV guidance and maintenance and community acceptance and benefits. The docking stations can include package handling facilities and can act as a final destination or as a delivery hub. The docking stations can extend the range of UAVs by providing recharging/refueling stations for the UAVs. The docking stations can also include navigational aid to guide the UAVs to the docking stations and to provide routing information from the central control. The docking stations can be incorporated into existing structures such as cell towers, light and power poles, and buildings. The docking stations can also comprise standalone structures to provide additional services to underserved areas.
At first glance, one might think this type of system is possibly too complex, but a Dutch company Delft Aerial Robotics (DAR) has already been testing an autonomous drone network with some success:
Amazon is not the only delivery company getting ready for the delivery drone era. DHL seems to be the front-runner in the race so far, having already delivered packages to actual customers on a trial basis in the mountains of Germany with their Parcelcopter. DHL have also come up with an interesting drone docking station called the Parcelcopter Skyport.
UPS has also been testing delivery methods, specifically medical supplies in Africa. Earlier this year UPS announced that they were partnering with a California-based aerial robotics company called Zipline, to carry out these medical delivery trials in Rwanda