Amazon has filed a patent for a land-based, mobile network that could act as both a roving warehouse to carry inventory and as a traveling maintenance shop for a fleet of unmanned aerial vehicles.
The August 1, 2017 filing with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, first detailed by Business Insider, describes “intermodal vehicles” that themselves may transported by train, container ships, tractors, or other vehicle. But these vehicles would incorporate their own robotic arm(s) and be able to launch or retrieve a drone and load things onto it. Tech news site The Verge characterized this sci-fi-like network as “kind of nuts,” but there is logic in putting both inventory and repairs closer to drones which, if things go the way Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos hopes, will be everywhere.
As noted by BI, Amazon (amzn) is being aggressive on its drone plans, but it’s still early. The company has conducted closely controlled test flights—one Amazon Prime drone delivered a container of sunscreen for a demo at an elite tech conference—but there’s a world of difference between that and flying these vehicles over crowded city streets. For one thing, safety regulations still need to be hammered out at the state, local, and federal levels. Drones can also operate on batteries, which need frequent recharging and general repairs like any other mechanical device.
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Amazon is not alone in its drone dreams. Facebook (fb) has been testing a huge solar-powered drone, and the social network has outlined plans to use unmanned aerial vehicles to “beam” Internet access to underserved areas. And Google (goog) sister company Project Wing is testing its new unmanned aerial aircraft in Australia for delivery purposes, as well.