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It’s Raining…Packages? Inside Amazon’s Latest Drone Patent

The next time we look up in the sky and see an unidentified flying object hovering over our homes, it very well may be our latest package delivery.

Amazon on Tuesday received a patent for a package protection airbag that can be dropped from as high as 25 feet, to be used for the safe transit of customers’ packages during drone deliveries.

According to the patent, filed in March 2015, an “unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV),” like a drone, could inflate the “airlift package protection (APP) airbag” with gas or even just from the downdraft from the aircraft’s propellers while in transit, just prior to releasing the package above a “drop zone” associated with the final destination. During descent, the APP airbag may operate similar to a stunt airbag, whereby air is released gradually as it descends to absorb the impact of hitting the ground.

Drones may use cameras and other sensors to make sure the “drop zone” is clear for delivery. If there are any “people, animals or fragile objects” in the way of the final destination, the drone may opt to decline delivering until the zone is clear.

The airbag also helps to conserve energy. Airbag drops can be done between the ranges of 5 feet to 25 feet, depending on the weight and height of the package. This means drones are able to preserve the energy that otherwise would be used for the energy-intensive acts of constantly landing and climbing.

The patent even offers detailed solutions should errors occur. For example, in the event of power failure or the drone flying out of control, the airbag will wrap around part of the drone to minimize damage to the craft or to any object on the ground.

This is one of several patents Amazon has received over the years for drone-related deliveries. In 2016, the Seattle-based company performed its first drone delivery, and in February 2017 received a patent that permitted it to carry out no-landing drone deliveries.