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Amazon’s idea for a massive drone dock looks like a cross between a beehive and a spaceship

Amazon is interested in moving its future drone delivery fulfillment centers closer to urban centers.

This is a screenshot of Amazon’s patent application for a new drone delivery tower that looks like a beehive Screenshot from Amazon patent application

Amazon has applied for a patent for tailoring its fulfillment centers for a future where drones are delivering items to people’s doorsteps in urban areas.

The e-commerce giant imagines beehive-like towers filled with robots, where drones can dock and be restocked before flying out again for another delivery.

In the patent application, Amazon says its current delivery centers are relegated to the outskirts of urban areas, where there’s enough space available to accommodate a large warehouse.

Screenshot from Amazon patent application

But as customers are becoming accustomed to speedy, on-demand delivery and services, where packages are delivered within a few hours or the same day, fulfillment centers located far away from densely populated urban areas aren’t always convenient enough.

Amazon describes a tower that could blend into an urban landscape, where drones could dock from multiple ports located on its exterior. Like its fulfillment centers now, the drone tower patent application includes plans for robots that help human workers fill orders and ferry items around the building, but in this case the robots may be carrying drones as well, which need to be restocked, recharged or receive maintenance.

Screenshot from Amazon patent application

The towers could accept shipments from traditional trucks — or even boats if located close enough to a body of water, the application states.

One iteration of the fulfillment center may include a self-service area where customers can come in person to pick up their orders.

To make sure rogue drones don’t enter, Amazon describes landing platforms locked with doors that authenticate via a wireless communication system that the drone is allowed to enter.

Just because Amazon has filed a patent, that doesn’t mean that the invention will ever come to fruition, but it does pull the curtain back to show how the online retailer is thinking about the integration of drones into its shipping process.

Screenshot from Amazon patent application

Amazon has been working on its drone project for years, but it wasn’t until last December that the company showed off footage of its first successful delivery completed entirely by a drone. That trial was in a small rural town in the Cambridge area of England. Then, at a March conference, Amazon completed its first public demonstration of a Prime Air drone delivery in the U.S.

While the beehive tower idea is certainly inventive, in the past year Amazon has shared a string of outlandish patent ideas for how the company might revolutionize the way it ships goods to customers and use drones.

Those ideas include a design for a floating warehouse parked 45,000 feet in the air for its drones to dock and collect packages to deliver to people on the ground below, as well as a pocket-sized voice-controlled drone that’s small enough to perch on someone’s shoulder.

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