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Amazon's delivery drones could drop packages with parachutes

What could go wrong?
James Trew, @itstrew
February 14, 2017
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Amazon's much-anticipated (and long time coming) drone deliveries might technically finally be happening, but a new patent spotted by CNN suggests your next book or box-set might actually arrive via parachute. There are many practical, legal and technical challenges that drone deliveries present -- and getting the parcel on the ground is just one of them.

So far, deliveries have been carried out in relatively controlled locations where a drone can land to release its cargo. A safe landing isn't possible everywhere, not to mention other environmental hazards such as humans, pets and other obstacles. Also, this is Amazon, where efficiency is king.

According to CNN, the patent proposes that Amazon's drones could complete deliveries by releasing the package from the air. The drone would watch from above, and attempt to adjust the package's descent with either a parachute, a burst of compressed air and other such mechanisms.

The first official delivery happened in Cambridge, UK in a location far away from the densely populated urban centers that most of us live in. If Amazon hopes to make drone deliveries a meaningful part of its distribution -- and a recent Super Bowl ad suggests it does -- then city-friendly solutions are essential.

Books and games floating down from the sky isn't even the weirdest idea Amazon's had for its drone deliveries. Another patent that surfaced at the end of last year described floating warehouses (think "blimp" motherships) that act as hubs that the relatively short-range drones would deploy from. Of course, a patent is just an idea on paper, and no real indication of intent to create.

Right now, Amazon's being beaten at the drone delivery game by unexpected airspace rival 7-Eleven, which has reportedly completed almost 100 aerial deliveries. Then, of course, there's the ever-changing red tape that comes with drones being used autonomously and for commercial use. But at least we can be sure Amazon's working to stamp each of those issues out.

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