By Arthur Holland Michel
In 2013, when Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos unveiled his idea to deliver packages to customers via drone, many were quick to ask how such a bold proposition could ever really work in practice. Over three years later, the PrimeAir program remains in development, and while the company has released a number of videos describing the drone delivery system in general terms and has conducted a handful of live delivery tests, it has yet to disclose the exact details of how it plans to safely and efficiently deliver goods by drone. We know that the drones will have a range of at least 15 miles or more, that they could complete deliveries in 15 minutes or less (the first live test took 13 minutes from click to delivery, according to a tweet by Jeff Bezos), and that the aircraft could carry items weighing up to five pounds. But that’s about it.
However, over the period since the program was announced in 2013, the company has been filing applications for patents at what appears to be a faster rate than any other company working on drone technology today. In 2014, it even began hiring patent lawyers to work exclusively in the PrimeAir division. Based on an analysis of patent records, as of August 2017, Amazon has been awarded at least 64 patents for concepts and technologies for delivery drones, including patents for aircraft designs, safety and security systems, methods for transferring goods from the air to the ground, and hive-like fulfilment centers. Surveying a selection of the patents that have been published so far provides a detailed sense of the company’s ideas for it will turn the program from fiction to reality.
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