Amazon’s Delivery Drones to Have Self-destruct Feature
As the world slowly steps into the era of driverless cars, unmanned freight trucks and other forms of automated transport, the principal cause of hesitation has been concerns over safety. The prospect of unmanned drones, which have been operating in combat zones for many years, carrying heavy payloads in residential skies, has been a particular worry.
Amazon, which has faced numerous regulatory obstacles in realizing its dream of implementing autonomous drone delivery systems, has been working to satisfy both legislators and the public that it can be done safely. In December of last year, the company successfully executed its first fully autonomous drone delivery in the UK, but progress in receiving patents and improving legislation have proved to be a challenge on both sides of the Atlantic.
At the end of November, the company was rewarded by the US Patent and Trademark Office with the patent to develop a drone which, in the event of an unavoidable collision, will self-destruct and scatter its constituent parts in a safe manner.
This will undoubtedly come as a relief to Amazon executives, who had filed the application almost eighteen months previously. The designs for the drone include a device known as a fragmentation controller, whose purpose is to determine the safest method of dispersal for the drone’s parts in the event of an impending collision. It does this by continually monitoring the drone’s speed, trajectory and altitude in relation to atmospheric conditions and the type of terrain it is flying over.
In addition to minimizing damage in the event of a collision, the fragmentation controller will be able to protect the drone in the event of unforeseen changes in the weather. Should the drone suddenly find itself flying through strong winds, or in an unexpectedly hot environment, the controller will be able to steer it to safety and protect the integrity of its batteries.
In the event of an automated drone losing control over its flight path due to external factors, the fragmentation controller has a number of tools at its disposal, including hooks, latches, and the ability to determine where component parts will impact the ground. It is able to detect surface features such as rivers, ponds and thick foliage, and then direct each part to land in as safe an area as possible. As these drones will be expected to operate most often in residential areas, it is extremely important that they avoid any risk to life or property.
Not only will Amazon’s drone be able to protect the public in the event of its own misfortune, it is also designed to minimize damage to the payloads it will carry. A typical parcel is more likely to survive intact if it is dropped onto hay bales rather than being jettisoned into a deep lake.
The patent’s approval will supposedly help to speed up current negotiations between Amazon, the FAA, NASA and five other companies, to develop an integrated air-traffic management system which will accommodate unmanned aerial vehicles below 400 feet. A deal is hoped to be reached by the end of next year.