Proving the Business Case for the Internet of Things

Amazon patents 'Death Star' warehouse

William Payne
January 5, 2017

Amazon has filed a patent for a flying warehouse that would be equipped with fleets of drones to deliver parcels from 45,000 feet to customers' doors. 

The patent was discovered by Zoe Leavitt of CB Insights. She tweeted her discovery "I just unearthed the Death Star of #ecommerce via @cbinsights... AMZN patent for airborne warehouses at 45K ft spitting out delivery drones."

Originally filed in 2014, the patent describes a Zeppelin type airship flying at around 45,000 feet, with drones flying workers backwards and forwards from earth for each shift. Fleets of drones carry Amazon packages from the airship to customers.

The patent describes the airship warehouse as "an aerial fulfilment centre", and states: "An AFC may be positioned at an altitude above a metropolitan area and be designed to maintain an inventory of items that may be purchased by a user and delivered to the user by a UAV that is deployed from the AFC. For example, a user may browse an e-commerce website and place an order for an item that is in the inventory of the AFC. Upon placing the order for the item, fulfillment instructions may be sent to the AFC and a UAV within the AFC may engage the item for delivery to the user. When the UAV departs the AFC, it may descend from the high altitude of the AFC using little or no power other than to guide the UAV towards its delivery destination and/or to stabilize the UAV as it descends."

According to the patent, delivery could be completed just minutes after an order was placed.

Special events such as football matches or concerts could cause the Amazon flying warehouse to relocate directly overhead of the event, delivering items directly to event-goers. 

The patent describes how "a temporal event (e.g., a football game) may be expected to produce a demand for certain types of items (e.g., sporting paraphernalia, food products, etc.). In advance of the event, the items may be delivered to the AFC in a quantity sufficient to satisfy the expected demand and the AFC may navigate to a position such that UAVs deployed from the AFC can safely navigate to the location of the event and deliver the items, thereby satisfying the demand. In some implementations, the AFC may navigate to a lower altitude and provide advertising for the temporal event or for other occasions (e.g., product announcements, product releases, sales)."

According to the patent, a big advantage of the flying warehouse is it would be much cheaper as well as faster to deliver goods.

"By utilizing an AFC for the storage and delivery of items using UAVs, the power required to complete an item delivery is substantially reduced. Rather than the UAV having to operate at power from the time it departs the materials handling facility to the delivery location and back to the materials handling facility (or another location), the UAV may be deployed from the AFC and descend under the forces of gravity toward a delivery location using little to no power. Only as the UAV approaches earth does it need to fully engage the UAV motors to maintain flight and complete delivery of the item."

The patent foresees a complex wireless based inventory system to maintain stock, replenishment and deliveries between the ground, the shuttle craft travelling between the ground and the airship, the airship itself, and the fleet of drones.