Amazon wants airships to support its drone deliveries

The Amazon drone which has completed it's first ever delivery in Cambridgeshire.
The Amazon drone which has completed it's first ever delivery in Cambridgeshire.

Amazon could support its plans to carry out deliveries with flying drones - trialled in Cambridgeshire earlier this month - with giant airships.

Amazon has filed a patent for flying warehouses that could use a fleet of drones to make deliveries to customers.

Handout graphic issued on the US Patent Office website of a patent, filed by Amazon, for flying warehouses that could use a fleet of drones to make deliveries to customers. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo: US Patent Office/PA.

Handout graphic issued on the US Patent Office website of a patent, filed by Amazon, for flying warehouses that could use a fleet of drones to make deliveries to customers. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo: US Patent Office/PA.

A patent document filed in 2014 in the US describes giant airships as “airborne fulfilment centres” (AFC) that could be stationed above metropolitan areas and used to store and quickly deliver items at times of high demand, using drones dispatched directly from the airship.

The technology and e-commerce giant is already testing drone deliveries in the UK, and made its first commercial delivery under the trial in Cambridgeshire earlier this month.

The patent filing also suggests smaller aircraft and other unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) could ferry workers to and from the ship as well as replenish stock.

“The AFC may be an airship that remains at a high altitude and UAVs with ordered items may be deployed from the AFC to deliver ordered items to user-designated delivery locations,” the filing reads.

“As the UAVs descend, they can navigate horizontally toward a user-specified delivery location using little to no power, other than to stabilise the UAV and/or guide the direction of descent. Shuttles (smaller airships) may be used to replenish the AFC with inventory, UAVs, supplies, fuel, etc. Likewise, the shuttles may be utilised to transport workers to and from the AFC.”

Many firms experimenting with drone technology have had difficulty increasing the range of the craft, which can be restricted by the size and weight of the battery. Currently Amazon’s UK drone trial is limited to items weighing 5lb or less that can be delivered in 30 minutes.

Amazon has not commented on the patent filing, which suggests the unfixed position of an airborne warehouse could be used to meet demand in different areas as needed, as well as reduce delivery times. The documents suggest that in some instances, airships could be moved close to sporting arenas or festival sites and used to sell merchandise.