Amazon’s demented plans for its warehouse blimp with drone fleet
Giant airship will hover over your city, deploying drones for advertising and delivery.
By ANNALEE NEWITZ
Dec 29 2016
Amazon has just gotten a patent for an “airborne fulfillment center utilizing unmanned aerial vehicles for item delivery.” Though the patent was granted in April 2016, the plans for it have just gone public on the US Patent and Trademark Office website. What they describe sounds like something out of a Philip K. Dick novel.
Here’s how it works. First, get a very large airship and float it above a city. Then attach a giant warehouse full of Amazon items to the bottom (actually, you should probably attach this before the floating, but the patent is vague on this point). This warehouse is constantly restocked by smaller airships, which bring personnel and supplies from the ground, as well as carrying away waste. People on the ground use their computers to browse items currently floating over their heads, and order whatever they want. Then drones grab the items, hurl themselves out of the airship, and engage their rotors as they approach the ground. The human receives his or her item from the drone, and the drone ascends back up to its floating palace of boxes and workers.
Basically this is just a more insane version of Amazon’s drone delivery system, which it began testing this month in the UK. Before the company can roll out a comparable service in the US, it needs approval from the Federal Aviation Administration. So apparently while they are waiting, they’ve decided to invent an even-more-unlikely-to-be-approved airborne delivery system.
What’s interesting is that the patent includes plans for the blimps to provide advertising, too. In the patent, the inventors refer to an “advertising altitude” for the “airborne fulfillment center.” Based on a flowchart in the patent, it seems that once the airship is in advertising range, people can order whatever is being advertised and then the ads will change. Imagine the Amazon blimp flying low over your city, advertising the new Samsung phone, shooting drones out to all those impulse buyers who clicked the button on their mobiles. It’s straight out of Blade Runner (or Frederick Pohl and C.M. Kornbluth’s incredible Madison Avenue dystopia The Space Merchants).