Amazon just recently and successfully completed a trial for its first delivery by drone in the United Kingdom earlier this month, with plans to make drone delivery more widely available. By having an autonomous mothership parked overhead a metropolitan area, it could get packages to customers "within minutes".
An illustration of Amazon's "airborne fulfillment center". The AFC could sit at an altitude of about 45,000 feet, the patent explains, allowing unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to be stocked and deployed as necessary.
While Amazon has not provided a timeline for this method of delivery, it is safe to assume that the air warehouse is not happening anytime soon. Once a customer places an order, those items are packaged in a box the drone can carry.
This includes at a sports match where customers would want food or merchandise items, which could be stored in a nearby AFC and then quickly sent out by drones after ordering.
In related news, it would also seem that Amazon is taking inspiration from the hit sci-fi TV show Star Trek, in that it also filed a patent for what's called "collective UAVs", Geekwire reports. But companies such as Facebook and Google have floated the use of airships and drones to beam Internet connectivity down to earth, so it was likely only a matter of time before Amazon began thinking about how to apply the same technology to its business.
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But rather than look to the ground for fulfillment centers, Amazon is apparently looking to the sky. For example, drones are now required to fly within line of sight of the pilot and below 400 feet.
Amazon says the AFC concept could be a boon for handling its logistics, and pointed to its ability to move around in anticipation of demand as one of its benefits.
While the shuttles would primarily be used to keep the flying warehouses stocked, they could also ferry away "outbound goods", including "overstock items, transshipment items, waste, damaged items, workers, etc". "In addition, because the AFC is airborne, it is not limited to a fixed location like a traditional ground based materials handling facility". Some patents never even lead to actual products.
For its part, Amazon hasn't commented on the patent and did not immediately respond to a Fortune request for comment.
How a flying warehouse would work, according to Amazon.