Amazon has filed a patent for a method to push packages out of a delivery drone and have them descend to ground level with guidance, rather than having the drone land and leave them there. The point of the plan to change delivery methods is reportedly to save energy that the drones would otherwise spend landing and lifting off, and to appease regulations regarding the kind of sizable drones that Amazon will be employing going to ground. While parachutes and guiding rudders on packages would be the most likely scenario, magnets and spring coils are reportedly also potential solutions, all of which are easier, more energy efficient, and safer than having a rather large drone alight in somebody’s lawn, where there may be children, pets, gnomes, or other lifeforms or decorations that the drone could potentially crash into.
According to the documents and images Amazon sent over to the US Patent Office, the whole show is going to be controlled through a remote package launch program, which will take in sensor data from the drone and the package, and send adjustment instructions accordingly. This means that, much like the drones themselves, the packages falling from the sky, however Amazon chooses to have them descend, will be autonomous, directed by an AI rather than a human pilot. Rather than having sensors on board the package, though, it appears that Amazon will have nothing more than an RF receiver, controller, and locking mechanism on the packages themselves, which means that the drones would be tracking the packages on their way down, relaying data to the package control computers, and relaying instructions back to the package.
A process flow chart within the patent filing shows that Amazon plans to do most of the calculating and planning before the package actually drops, using sensors on board the drone to account for environmental factors like wind or objects down below. Once the drone drops, Amazon will have ways to control it, but they will be relatively minimal; most of the direction for the package will be determined at the time it’s dropped from the delivery drone. While this method may not be optimal to account for sudden environmental changes like an errant family dog running up to claim the falling package for their own, it is a good start, and would save a lot of time, energy, and potentially money compared to the drone itself landing.