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

How MIT hacked horticulture to cultivate a hyper-flavorful basil plant

At MIT, Caleb Harper used his personal food computers to alter the climate in which he grew basil. Exposing it light for 24 hours a day changed the flavor profile of the plant, making it spicier and stronger.
Emerging Tech

Watch the fearsome DroneHunter X3 pluck rogue UAVs out of the sky

How do you stop enemy drones in their tracks? DroneHunter X3 is a new autonomous anti-drone technology which outruns and then captures rogue drones in midair. Check it out in action.
Emerging Tech

Pepsi, StartRocket team up to launch satellites for energy drink ad in night sky

Pepsi is working with StartRocket to launch an energy drink advertisement into the night sky using miniature satellites. The Russian startup is looking to send its system into orbit in 2021.
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.
Gaming

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

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

SpaceX’s main Falcon Heavy booster is lost at sea after falling off drone ship

SpaceX has lost the center core of its Falcon Heavy rocket after a successful mission last week that ended with it landing on a drone ship. SpaceX said rough seas resulted in the rocket toppling over and falling into the ocean.
Emerging Tech

Sweden is building a road that recharges electric buses that drive over it

The Swedish transport administration is exploring special roads which will charge vehicles’ batteries as they drive over them. It will test the idea with a short sample stretch of road.
Emerging Tech

Scientists manage to 3D print an actual heart using human cells

Scientists at Tel Aviv University have achieved a world-first by 3D printing a small-scale heart, complete with blood vessels, ventricles, and chambers. Here's why that's so exciting.
Emerging Tech

Drown out noisy neighbors and rest easy with these white noise machines

Some people are more sensitive to sound during sleep than others. Luckily, there are a number of white noise machines on the market to mask the noise. Here are our five of our current favorites.
Emerging Tech

Feast your eyes on the wildest, most elaborate Rube Goldberg machines ever built

Want to see something totally mesmerizing? Check out several of the best Rube Goldberg machines from across the internet, including one that serves cake and others that do ... nothing particularly useful.
Emerging Tech

Watch a pack of SpotMini robot dogs perform a terrifying feat of strength

Boston Dynamics' SpotMini robotic dog is now going around in packs, and the results are somewhat concerning. Check out the video to see what kind of shenanigans 10 of them got up to recently ...
Emerging Tech

Notre Dame fire: How drones and a robot called Colossus helped limit the damage

The fire that devastated the iconic Notre Dame Cathedral on Monday shocked many around the world. In a bid to prevent even worse damage to the structure, Paris firefighters opted to deploy drones and a robot called Colossus.
Emerging Tech

New gunfire-detection system alerts police of shooters in seconds, not minutes

The Safe Zone Gunfire Detector is a fast gunfire-detection system that could help avert potential tragedies in public places like schools, malls, or anywhere a mass shooting might occur.
Emerging Tech

NASA chooses a special spot for its next crewed moon landing

Following the U.S. government's announcement last month of a desire to see American astronauts set foot on the moon again in the next five years, NASA has revealed a location on the lunar surface where it would most like to land.