‘Delivery chutes’ are Amazon’s latest idea for its drone delivery service

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In case it’d somehow escaped your attention, Amazon is building a drone that it wants to use as part of its delivery service. So alongside couriers and drivers, it also plans to use autonomous flying machines to buzz through the sky and drop off orders right outside your door.

It may sound a bit far-fetched, and it’s true that a full-fledged drone delivery system is still a ways off, but the company, along with a number of competitors, is investing huge resources in moving toward its ambitious goal.

We’ve seen a slew of patents granted by the United States Patent and Trademark Office linked to Amazon’s plan, the latest of which tackles the process of actually plopping a package down when it reaches the delivery address.

Granted this week and spotted by BizJournals, the document outlines an idea that allows a drone to deposit a package without having to land. It centers around a chute — or “shroud” as Amazon calls it — that extends, accordion-like, from the drone once it arrives at its delivery address. The flying machine then releases the package into the chute, which slows and protects the package as it descends. After that, the chute retracts and the drone returns to base.

Amazon cites two main reasons for the chute. Firstly, it allows the drone to stay high in the sky, reducing noise levels on the ground while at the same time keeping it a safe distance from people. Secondly, it could make the delivery process a whole lot easier in locations that are built-up or have tricky obstacles close by such as trees. Of course, it also reduces the chance of some ne’er-do-well running off with it.

The issue of obstacles on the ground is clearly a matter of concern for the company’s drone team, especially as it envisages multiple drones buzzing around urban areas dropping off packages in busy places. At least one other patent focusing on the issue describes using parachutes, compressed air, and landing flaps attached to packages as a way of getting orders to the ground without having to land the drone.

Amazon has been pumping out patents for its drone project for several years, but it’s impossible to say how many of the ideas, if any, will ever make it off the page. This wacky concept featuring a warehouse and drone airport in the sky, for example, seems highly unlikely at the current time, though another suggesting the use of existing infrastructure to keep the drones juiced up on their delivery runs seems a little more plausible.

As for extendable chutes dangling from delivery drones … well, like the others, we’ll just have to wait and see.

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