Amazon has filed a patent for vertical drone centers, resembling beehives, to help coordinate fast deliveries from densely packed, downtown urban areas. The “multi-level fulfillment centers,” as the company calls them, would allow drones to take off and land in tight urban settings. The patent application, filed with the US Patent and Trademark Office, was written in 2015 and published last week. The application included drawings in which drones fly in and out of tall, cylindrical buildings, which the company would place in dense urban areas.
Shifting to these “fulfillment centers” would allow Amazon to more efficiently deliver to densely packed population centers. Currently, the company uses large, single-story warehouses to temporarily store packages, normally located on the outskirts of metropolitan centers due to their size.
“By locating the fulfillment centers within the cities, items may be more quickly delivered to the growing population of people that live in the cities, as well as the large population of people who work in the cities,” the company said in the patent application.
These centers would have the potential to fill hundreds of thousands of orders each day, with many drones that can continually pick up deliveries and recharge their batteries on-site. A “central command” at the sites would coordinate drone operations in a similar manner to flight controllers at airports, according to Amazon.
The buildings would also include an option for traditional vehicle deliveries, and possibly a self-service feature to allow customers to pick up orders in person.
Commercial drone operation has come under scrutiny from regulators, including attempts to regulate their movement, which could create roadblocks if Amazon decides to move forward with its plan outlined in the application. Local zoning and development laws may also limit commercial drone operation.
In 2016, the company announced a partnership with the British government to explore the use of small drones to deliver packages, marking the first testing of such an idea in Britain. Amazon says it has also tested its Prime Air drone service in Cambridge this past December. The company’s unmanned craft delivered popcorn and a TV streaming stick to a customer.
The company has also filed a patent for airborne warehouses they call “airborne fulfillment centers” that they could position above cities to coordinate drone deliveries, as well as for parachute-aided package delivery. Some have argued that the patents have been filed largely to gain free publicity.
Amazon also made headlines recently for their purchase of Whole Foods Market.