Amazon might soon take flight in more ways than one.
The e-commerce giant has been awarded a patent that describes a logistics technology it calls “airborne fulfillment center (AFC).” The AFC is essentially in airship that’s capable of flying at altitudes of 45,000 feet or more that would house items the company sells through its online marketplace. In the patent, Amazon describes a method by which drones would fly into the warehouse, pick up the items they need to deliver, and then deliver those items to the customer’s home.
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Currently, Amazon’s drone-delivery process requires the company to erect a warehouse to serve a particular area. Inside that warehouse is a selection of lightweight products the company sells through its e-marketplace. Once a customer places an order, those items are packaged in a box the drone can carry. The drone is then outfitted with the package and delivers it to a customer’s home within 30 minutes.
The potential pitfall with drones, however, is that they can only travel so far, so Amazon would technically need to erect a large number of warehouses around the world just to accommodate customers in disparate areas.
But rather than look to the ground for fulfillment centers, Amazon is apparently looking to the sky. Like their grounded alternatives, the AFCs would be home to an inventory of items Amazon sells through its online marketplace, according to the patent. New items would be added to the AFC with help from a logistics shuttle that would carry products to and from the device. When an order is placed, a drone would be outfitted with the desired products and descend from the airship. It would then deliver the items to the customer.
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“The use of an AFC and shuttles also provides another benefit in that the AFC can remain airborne for extended periods of time,” the company wrote in its patent description. “In addition, because the AFC is airborne, it is not limited to a fixed location like a traditional ground based materials handling facility. In contrast, it can navigate to different areas depending on a variety of factors, such as weather, expected demand, and/or actual demand.”
Link to the rest at Fortune and thanks to Rob and others for the tip.