A new U.S. patent filing from prominent retail-shipper Amazon seems to suggest the company has plans to launch drone deliveries from trains, ships, and tractor trailers. In fact, those platforms are specifically listed by patent number US 9,718,564 B1 - which is identified as a concept under which "intermodal vehicles" would be used as "ground-based mobile maintenance facilities for unmanned aerial vehicles." The idea behind the patent seems to be a different, and possibly more immediately feasible, variation on another patent reported on back in December of last year. That prior patent, which was filed as patent number 9,305,280 centered around mobile airborne fulfillment centers.
The intermodal vehicles addressed by the patent would be movable to locations or areas where demand for the items being carried is anticipated to be high, according to the filing. Specifically, unmanned aerial vehicles would be able to load, launch, and be retrieved at "locomotives, container ships, road tractors, or other vehicles," even while those are not stationary. Like the above-mentioned patent for airborne fulfillment centers, the items each intermodal vehicle is carrying would be based on prior delivery histories or upcoming events for a given area. That means they would be most often used areas with high-density populations where Amazon is popular and in areas hosting major sporting events. The vehicles would also contain the replacement and repair essentials for the drones themselves so that inspections and fixes could also be conducted even while the vehicles are on the move - making the system predominantly self-supporting. The only thing really missing from this equation is a way for vehicles to restock on supplies, once items initially loaded into the intermodal vehicles begins to dwindle. That wouldn't necessarily be a problem for a truly mobile facility, but it could diminish the efficiency of the overall system.
Unfortunately, there is no guarantee that anything substantial will come of the new patent - which was filed on August 1. However, there appears to be a deeper trend to Amazon's recent patents. In yet another patent filing earlier this year, the company postulated a tower-based fulfillment center that was also focused on making drone deliveries a possibility within cities. Each of these systems could easily be integrated to work in conjunction with the others. At the very least, it can be argued that Amazon plans to deliver on drone-based fulfillment systems in the future. Whether or not that actually happens remains to be seen. In the meantime, the full patent can be viewed through the source link below.