Amazon delivery drone could self-disintegrate for safety if it falls from sky

amazon drone patent save battery power prime air delivery 2 1200x0
Hopefully it won’t happen very often, but when Amazon and others finally get fully fledged drone delivery services off the ground, there’ll be occasions when the flying machines suddenly drop out of the sky.

Whether it’s inclement weather, a software malfunction, or some ne’er-do-well with a catapult and a rock, we have to accept that those multi-copter contraptions will sometimes get into difficulties and fall all the way back to the ground.

It’s one of several challenges that gives the Federal Aviation Administration folks sleepless nights as they consider the safest way to let companies and organizations use the popular technology as part of their operations.

But Amazon may have the answer.

The online shopping giant is exploring an innovative system that would cause an airborne drone that’s in difficulties to disintegrate in mid-air, minimizing the force of the potential impact on any human, animal, or object on the ground.

The idea is outlined in a patent granted this week by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Titled “direct fragmentation for unmanned airborne vehicles (UAVs),” the document describes how a malfunctioning drone could dismantle itself in the sky after assessing the conditions on the ground.

“The fragmentation sequence includes a release timing and a release location to fragment away (e.g., release, drop, jettison, eject, etc. away) one or more UAV components in case the flight operation of the UAV is disrupted,” the company says in the patent.

amazon delivery drone self disintegrate safety patent
Amazon
Amazon

Conditions that could cause problems for a delivery drone are listed as “unexpected heat, cold, wind, rain, hail, high or low (e.g., barometric) pressure regions, or other meteorological conditions.” These could affect the drone’s rotor system, flight control computer, battery, flight sensors, or other components, resulting in a major malfunction that makes it behave more like a brick than an aircraft.

The patent, which Amazon filed in June 2016, says that the release system could include “attachment mechanisms, such as clips, latches, hooks.”

Amazon says the fragmentation sequence would happen automatically, and that depending on which parts of the drone are jettisoned, “the weight, speed, air drag coefficient, and other factors related to the UAV can be altered.” This suggests that the drone wouldn’t always completely disintegrate. Rather, it would in some situations only eject the parts causing the problem if it allowed the damaged drone to make a safer landing.

We’re assuming the system would also do its best to ensure that whatever it’s carrying — several textbooks for a delivery, for example — is jettisoned away from anyone its sensors detect on the ground … providing it’s not its sensors that are malfunctioning.

It’s an intriguing idea, though Amazon has been filing a lot of intriguing ideas related to its delivery drone ambitions, some more outlandish than others. Check out this city-based drone tower that would look — and sound — like a giant beehive. And if you want to go full bonkers, then this patent for a “flying warehouse” should tickle you.

There’s no telling whether this latest idea will become a thing, but it nevertheless offers some interesting insight into how champions of the technology are hoping to overcome the great challenges that lie ahead.

Emerging Tech

Delivery drones: NASA to test advanced traffic control system for cities

Delivery drone services are edging closer as NASA prepares to demonstrate its advanced drone traffic management system, which it claims offers safe and effective control of autonomous aircraft in urban areas.
Gaming

Having issues with your PS4? Check out our solutions to its most common problems

Just because the PlayStation 4 is a remarkable system doesn't mean that it's immune to the occasional hiccup. Thankfully, we've vetted some of the bigger PS4 problems and found solutions for whatever might ail you.
Emerging Tech

Wish you could fly? You totally can with these top-of-the-line drones

In just the past few years, drones have transformed from a geeky hobbyist affair to a full-on cultural phenomenon. Here's a no-nonsense rundown of the best drones you can buy right now, no matter what kind of flying you plan to do.
Movies & TV

'Prime'-time TV: Here are the best shows on Amazon Prime right now

There's more to Amazon Prime than free two-day shipping, including access to a number of phenomenal shows at no extra cost. To make the sifting easier, here are our favorite shows currently streaming on Amazon Prime.
Health & Fitness

Immune cell discovery takes us one step closer to a universal flu vaccine

A group of international researchers have made a discovery which could take us one step closer to the universal, one-shot flu vaccine that people around the world have been dreaming of.
Photography

NASA celebrates Earth’s incredible natural beauty with free photo book

NASA has published a fabulous new book featuring stunning imagery captured by its satellites over the years. A hardback version is available for $53, though it can also be downloaded to ebook readers for free, and enjoyed online.
Deals

This new all-in-one flashlight is a power bank, lighter, and screwdriver

The Pyyros modular flashlight can perform numerous field tasks, from hammering to starting fires. If you back it on Kickstarter now, you can score some savings on this innovative flashlight and multi-tool, but act fast: This early-bird…
Movies & TV

Hilarious new Kickstarter aims to fix Scorcese’s last scene in The Departed

A fan of The Departed and apparent hater of rat-as-symbolism imagery has launched a Kickstarter campaign to digitally erase the rodent from the end of Martin Scorsese’s 2006 movie.
Emerging Tech

Baristas beware, Bbox cafe uses robots to brew your morning coffee

Want your morning coffee and pastry prepared by robot? Bbox, a new coffee shop in downtown Berkeley, California, lets customers place their order by app and then uses automation to take care of the rest.
Emerging Tech

This ridiculous new flamethrower makes Elon Musk’s look like a cigarette lighter

The XL18 Flamethrower is a flame-shooting beast on steroids, capable of firing off bursts of flame more than 110 feet in length. The best part? You can order it over the internet today.
Emerging Tech

SpaceX just nailed its most challenging Falcon 9 rocket landing to date

If you've been following the SpaceX launch calendar, you know this week marks the first launch from Cape Canaveral in two months. We have the details on where you can watch the launch live.
Emerging Tech

Touchdown! Japan successfully lands its Hayabusa2 spacecraft on asteroid Ryugu

Japan's space agency has just completed the latest stage of its extraordinarily complex mission, successfully landing its Hayabusa2 spacecraft on an asteroid millions of miles from Earth.
Emerging Tech

Kickstarter campaign aims to help make 3D-printed space habitats for Mars

Mars X-House is an ambitious project that's intended to create a prototype future Mars habitat using 3D printing. And, thanks to a new Kickstarter campaign, you can be a part of it.
Emerging Tech

Engineer turns his old Apple lle into an wheeled robot, and even gives it a sword

How do you give new life to a 30-year-old computer? Software engineer Mike Kohn found a way by transforming his old Apple IIe into a wheeled robot. Check it out in all its 1980s glory.