December 29, 2016

Amazon has been working on getting a drone delivery program off the ground for a while now, but some new patents show the company isn’t out of wild ideas.

As TechCrunch reports, Zoe Leavitt, an analyst for CB Insights, has discovered a recent Amazon patent for an “airborne fulfillment center utilizing unmanned aerial vehicles for item delivery” – i.e., a giant flying drone mothership zeppelin warehouse.

The patent envisions the airborne fulfillment center (AFC) in the form of a giant airship, that would fly at high altitudes of around 45,000 feet in the air, and would then deploy individual drones to deliver Amazon’s goods to customers.

Additional, smaller airships would be used to return the drones back to the AFC, resupply the mothership with more inventory and fuel, and shuttle workers to the flying factory.

Amazon’s patent filing for an airborne fulfillment center utilizing unmanned aerial vehicles for item delivery

Due to the aerial deployment, drones would be able to have a much wider delivery range while consuming less power as they descend to deliver packages.

Zoe Leavitt

“I just unearthed the Death Star of ecommerce via @cbinsights”Zoe Leavitt,
analyst for CB Insights

And the mobile nature of the warehouses would allow Amazon greater flexibility in managing inventory in the face of changing demand.

For example, the patent offers a hypothetical case of deploying a AFC near a sport stadium to allow for immediate delivery of team merchandise and snacks during a game.

For now, the flying drone warehouses remain just a patent – Amazon has given no indication that it will actually be darkening the skies above our cities with huge, drone-swarm-deploying blimps anytime soon.

Given that the drone delivery program is still mired in a sea of regulatory tape in the United States, it could still be a while before we even see terrestrial Amazon drones, which have just begun testing in the UK.

That said, it’s clear that the scale of Amazon’s drone dreams – as seen in the airborne fulfillment center patent – could go far beyond what anyone had imagined.

Related: Amazon Ships More Than One Billion Items Globally