Amazon patent on inner-city drone hubs reveal new developments in drone-delivery technology

Amazon patent on inner-city drone hubs reveal new developments in drone-delivery technology

Amazon’s recent purchase of Whole Foods has been big news for the last week, but why the online retailer would want to further expand into fresh foods—along with all the shipping complications that implies—has just become clear. Amazon’s patent on several unique designs for tower warehouses has just been published by the US Patent and Trademark Office. The towers would be warehouse on the bottom, drone hub on the top, and possibly come in beehive, cylinder, or UFO styles.

These new warehouses would still support ground-bound methods for transportation of goods, and even allow customers who live nearby to come pick up their order (though if I wanted to do that, why would I be shopping online? Anybody?)

The tall and skinny warehouses will allow placement within cities, rather than being located farther away where space can be found for the sprawling retail hubs, peopled (roboted?) mostly by robots. This will allow much quicker delivery within dense population centers.

Warehouse sketch from the patent.

Possible warehouse/drone hub prototypes. (Amazon/USPTO).

Drone delivery pros and cons

According to, there are some unique abilities and limitations to drone delivery (PrimeAir), as it operates now:

  • Package weight is limited to 5 pounds.
  • 30 minute delivery time.
  • Flies at 400 feet, out of the way of larger aircraft, and has cameras and sensors to help dodge birds and obstacles.
  • Can fly straight up and straight down, so it will descend directly over the landing zone.
  • Battery has a 15-mile range.


Some other patents filed by Amazon that sound like something dreamed up by Willy Wonka are:

  • Blimp warehouse/drone hubs
  • Software to communicate with self-driving trucks
  • Pocket-sized drones
  • A system for drones to hitch rides on trucks in case of emergency or to conserve battery power
  • Delivery between fulfillment centers and airports via rail, conveyor belt, or pneumatics in underground tunnels.
  • Drone recharging or emergency landing on street lamps or utility poles.
  • Drones that can connect together to share battery power or team-lift larger packages.

Click here to read the original roundup of strange Amazon patents on

Pioneer of big ideas

Of course, a patent doesn’t mean that all of these ideas—or even any of them—will ever roll out in a practicable way, and some critics have pointed out that the logistics of drone delivery are likely to cost a pretty penny. However, two-day shipping already costs Amazon a pretty penny, and founder and CEO Jeff Bezos is known for his willingness to pour capital into innovation that keeps Amazon at the cutting edge of online retail. Putting customers’ wants and needs first, while keeping prices low, has built Amazon into a titan of retail with happy investors, and little profit.

Bezos said in a 2013 interview for 60 Minutes: “I would define Amazon by our big ideas, which are customer centricity, putting the customer at the center of everything we do, invention. We like to pioneer, we like to explore, we like to go down dark alleys and see what’s on the other side.”

This certainly qualifies as a “big idea.” Whether or not there is anything on the other side of this particular dark alley, I’m interested to find out, and this patent indicates that Amazon is too.