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Online giant explores ‘mobile’ drone launch pad


Amazon has lots of ideas about how drones can improve package deliveries, but they also need supportive facilities and operations.

In hopes of getting the ball rolling, the online giant has filed a patent application for “ground-based mobile maintenance facilities for unmanned aerial vehicles.” Simply put, these hubs would be dedicated to accommodating, loading, launching, receiving and maintaining the delivery drones.

According to a patent filing, which was recently published by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Center, intermodal vehicles could be linked to locomotives, container ships, road tractors or other vehicles, and equipped with systems for loading one or more items onto the aerial vehicle. These hubs could also launch or retrieve drones while the vehicle is in motion.

The application also defines how these hubs will help maintain the delivery devices. For example, drones may be loaded with replacement parts and/or inspection equipment. They could also be configured to conduct repairs, servicing operations or inspections on drones within the intermodal vehicles while the train, ship or another hosting vehicle is in motion, according to the filing.

Amazon is not the first company to explore the concept of mobile hubs or launch pads. In February, UPS tested a program in Lithia, Florida, that launched an “octocopter drone” from atop of a UPS package car. The device was programmed to autonomously deliver a package to a home, and then return to the vehicle while the driver continues along the route to make a separate delivery.

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