Amazon has received a patent for a shipping label that includes a built-in parachute, “to enable the delivery of packages by [unpiloted] aerial vehicles (UAVs) or other aerial vehicles.” The patent, as reported by GeekWire, was filed in August 2015 and granted by the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) on Monday.
This means it may be possible in the near future that your Amazon package could be dropped from the sky without any damage thanks to this special label. It is unclear whether the patent will ever be put to use, though the patent may provide new insight into Amazon’s Prime Air drone delivery project.
The system calls for a packaging label that would be integrated with a folded parachute and a network of cords. It could also incorporate a breakaway cover, shock absorbers, and a network of sensors built into a drone to track the package’s descent. The system could be adapted to accommodate an item’s size and could incorporate several parachutes for heavy packages.
Amazon began trialling its drone delivery system in the UK late last year, and the company completed its first Prime Air demonstration in the US in March. Parachutes didn’t figure into either trial — the autonomous drones simply landed and released their packages — but a patent granted to Amazon in February calls for packages to be released with parachutes mid-flight. Zipline, a California-based startup, has also been using parachutes to deliver blood from drones to remote areas of Rwanda.
What is currently ‘up in the air is’ when Amazon will launch the drone delivery in the United States. The company’s current plan, which calls for automated drones flying without the direct supervision of a human, isn’t legal today.
Amazon hopes its Prime Air network will eventually deliver packages within 30 minutes, and it has gradually accumulated patents on drone technology and infrastructure. But the company still faces these regulatory hurdles in the US.