In Amazon’s continuing quest to revolutionise shipping, the company has developed a drone concept that explodes in an emergency.
It’s no secret that Amazon is working with unmanned drones. Its Prime Air scheme has been widely documented in the news media, and last year made its first successful delivery to a customer in the UK.
But the widespread rollout of delivery drones is still a way off; this is partly due to regulatory challenges, but also due to design niggles – like what happens if a drone fails (and falls) in mid-flight?
One answer to that question comes in the form of a newly-granted Amazon patent that describes a drone that can self-destruct in difficulty. The patent, which was granted by the USPTO, reads:
“The use of UAVs [for delivery] is accompanied by the need for new solutions to various problems, such as service disruptions due to unsuitable weather conditions, equipment malfunctions, and other problems.”
It continues: “When loss of flight operation is detected, the UAV an enter a fragmentation sequence mode.”
This fragmentation, which effectively means splitting apart in mid-air, would be “controlled” and “directed” if any disruption to the fight operation occurs. Amazon says that the fragmentation sequence would be determined by analysing meteorological conditions and the topography of the terrain below. For instance, Amazon will know not to jettison its load if there’s a school below.
The idea is that a giant drone falling out of the sky isn’t great for public health and safety, but a drone that progressively splits components off one by one is less likely to do damage to anyone. It can even prioritise and position the ditching of specific components for later retrieval.
Amazon even describes how these parts could be fragmented off, suggesting that “small explosive charges, compressed gas charges, or similar mechanisms can be used as pat of the release mechanisms…to aide in separating one or more components way from the UAV”.
It’s worth noting, however, that there’s no guarantee Amazon will ever utilise such a technology. A patent is just a secured idea, and doesn’t mean Amazon is about to start blowing UAVs to smithereens above your house – not yet, anyway.
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