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Amazon's Top 5 Most Interesting Patents: Above us, below us, and . . . all around us.

January 24, 2017


Let me start off by congratulating my good friend on his new position at Amazon (you know who you are).  I am sure you, like your new company, will do incredible things and grow in very unexpected ways.  After all, it wasn't long ago that Amazon was only an online bookstore operating out of a garage.  Today, not only does Amazon dominate in online retail, but its Prime services such as Prime Free Same-Day Delivery, Prime Instant Video, and Prime Music show that Amazon is more than capable of outrageous creativity and thinking well outside of a little brown box.


If you haven't looked for yourself, Amazon has many, many patents.   Choosing only five was a difficult task.  The patents below were chosen using very unscientific methods - I combed through many relevant publications about the patents Amazon has been granted by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), and if my inner geek got giddy then they were up for consideration.  Click on either the patent number or title to read more for yourself.  Enjoy!

1.  Forget Taking to the Sky.  

Amazon Has a Patent for Using a Subterranean Network.


     Patent No.:  9,505,559

     Patent Title:  Dedicated network delivery systems



Why is this cool??  Because Amazon has package delivery covered from all angles - even if the method seems like it would be better provided by mining dwarves or orcs from Middle Earth.  This patent describes a system comprised of "a hub associated with a fulfillment center; at least one node associated with a customer; a plurality of subterranean conveyors configured to transport at least one item."  


As you can see from the illustration below (directly from this patent), the subterranean network is exactly what it sounds like.  The patent is even drafted in such a way that those fun vacuum tubes you see at the bank could be used to deliver packages right to your door.

2.  No, the Sky is Way Too Cool.  Especially When Amazon May Use an Old School Zeppelin for Deploying Drones.


     Patent No.:  9,305,280

     Patent Title:  Airborne fulfillment center utilizing unmanned aerial vehicles for item delivery


The last mile is the hardest.  Interestingly enough, Amazon's '280 patent describes a method for making that last mile of delivery just a bit easier.  The method involves using what they call an "airborne fulfillment center" ("AFC") to deploy parcels via unmanned aerial vehicles to their final destinations.  This AFC is described as a high-altitude airship, and it is described in the patent as possibly flying around 45,000 feet (but likely much lower).


In other words, Amazon has been thinking about utilizing something resembling a zeppelin loaded with delivery drones.  This AFC would most likely be used in metropolitan areas "to provide advertising, decrease the delivery time and/or to satisfy an expected demand."

3.  ...Or Maybe Drones ARE the Packaging?


     Patent Application:  US20160378108A1

     Patent Application Title:  Collective unmanned aerial vehicle configurations


The title and drawing in this patent application don't give away much.  Essentially, Amazon is saying that there is strength in numbers.


Though the application is still pending, Amazon is seeking to use its technology to combine several independent drones into one "collective UAV [that] may be used to aerially transport virtually any size, weight or quantity of items, travel longer distances, etc."   Just picture a platform of drones descending to your lawn to drop off your new television. 

4.  Steer Your Self-Driving Cars to the Side, Uber.  

Amazon is Coming Through.


     Patent No.:  9,547,986

     Patent Title:  Lane assignments for autonomous vehicles


The topic of autonomous vehicles is all over the media these days.  Amazon has as much motivation as anyone to bring self-driving cars (or delivery trucks) into fruition.


Amazon's '986 patent (which was granted on January 17, 2017) indicates that Amazon is making progress.  The patent abstract states that "[t]he roadway management system can determine the direction of travel for lanes in a roadway and direct autonomous automobiles to enter the roadway in a particular lane."


5.  But What About Alexa?  I Say Give Her Wings and Let Her Fly.


     Patent No.:  9,471,059

     Patent Title:  Unmanned aerial vehicle assistant


Granted on October 18, 2016, Amazon's '059 patent contemplates the combination of drones and AI for a multitude of uses.  Simply stated, Amazon has been granted a patent on voice-controlled aerial sidekicks.  Their patent mentions use by police at routine traffic stops as well as additional uses such as locating lost children in crowds and locating lost vehicles in parking lots. It would be hard to argue that this is one of Amazon's craziest patents, but you must admit . . . it is pretty cool.