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Amazon plans to deliver packages in parachute drops from drones

One of the most fun topics in eDelivery for many months has been drone deliveries, but while trials continue in the US and UK and regulators and Amazon battle with how to actually land the things to make the service practical, there may be an alternative.

On Valentine’s Day this year Amazon surreptitiously applied for a patent, which reading between the lines, looks very much like they want to parachute the goods to the user from the drone while it is in flight.

US Patent Application 14/752,671 says:Manoeuvering a package following in-flight release from an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). A package delivery system can be implemented to forcefully propel a package from an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), while the UAV is in motion. The UAV can apply a force onto the package that alters its descent trajectory from a parabolic path to a vertical descent path. The package delivery system can apply the force onto the package in a number of different ways. For example, pneumatic actuators, electromagnets, spring coils, and parachutes can generate the force that establishes the vertical descent path of the package.

“Further, the package delivery system can also monitor the package during its vertical descent. The package can be equipped with one or more control surfaces. Instructions can be transmitted from the UAV via an RF module that cause the one or more controls surfaces to alter the vertical descent path of the package to avoid obstructions or to regain a stable orientation.”

That is dropping packages from drones is it not?

The serious bit behind being bombed by Amazon is that dropping packages from 50m gets around the biggest regulatory hurdle to stymieing drone deliveries: the fact that it is illegal to fly within 50m of any person or structure outside of the drone pilot’s line of sight. This would get around that regulation and allow amazon to drop goods remotely.

While there are clearly issues with aim, address errors and protecting the goods, the idea has caused quite a stir and drones almost certainly have a role to play in fulfilment. According to Niklas Hedin, CEO of Centiro: “Retailers must ensure they can be confident in their last-mile capabilities, otherwise these issues will continue to reflect poorly on the overall brand experience customers receive. This explains why Amazon has brought more of its delivery function in house, and now appears to be building on its plans involving drones with planned functionality involving parachutes.”

Hedin continues: “Put simply, retailers must focus on developing a robust and flexible carrier network, so they can provide customers with a broad range of tailored delivery options based on geography, cost and lead time. Doing this will enable retailers to give customers exactly what they want, and guarantee order promises won’t be broken at the most important time in the retail calendar.”