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Amazon isn’t just thinking about delivery with its drones.
The new patent made public this week reveals an idea for a drone-powered towing system designed for skiers, surfers, skaters, and more.
“While there are various known uses for unmanned aerial vehicles, certain techniques for controlling the unmanned aerial vehicles are relatively limiting with respect to other uses,” according to the patent filing, originally filed in June 2016. “For example, current hand-operated remote controls for automated aerial vehicles are not conducive to users being able to operate the remote controls while simultaneously utilizing their hands for other purposes.”
Amazon’s idea is focused on the interactions between the automated drone system and the user. It includes features that would allow a user to summon the drone to their location. The drone would also be able to detect and avoid obstacles in the travel path of a user and/or tow line. “For example, when a user is snow skiing in a mountainous area, a designated travel area may be determined that avoids cliffs or other dangerous areas,” the filing notes. The drone could even lift a user in the air.
Listed on the patent is Amazon exec Gur Kimchi, who previously led the company’s Prime Air division for seven years before transitioning this past March. He was replaced by former Boeing exec David Carbon.
“After 7 years and with the project transitioned into Amazon’s Operations, I’m stepping away from Prime Air,” Kimchi wrote in a post on LinkedIn. “We were lucky to be able to get a leader of David Carbon caliber to lead the project towards scaled operations.”
Read the full patent below.
Amazon’s drone efforts date back to 2013 when Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos revealed plans for delivery drones on 60 Minutes. But seven years later the company has yet to officially launch a widespread commercial delivery drone service, only doing small tests in the meantime.
Business Insider reported in June that Amazon is gearing up to launch Prime Air on Aug. 31 after long delays, internal conflict, and regulatory holdups. “But people close to the program say whatever drone service Amazon is able to launch in the near term will amount to little more than a glorified trial in a controlled and extremely limited area,” BI reporter Eugene Kim noted.
Amazon showed off its latest drone design in June 2019: a fully-electric drone that can fly up to 15 miles and deliver packages under five pounds in less than 30 minutes.
Other companies including Alphabet and UPS are developing their own drone delivery systems. Alphabet’s Wing arm has increased its drone-powered deliveries amid the pandemic.
In a separate patent published this past December, Amazon described a system that has autonomous ground vehicles transport packages to a customer’s neighborhood and coordinate the doorstep delivery with a drone.