THE FUTURE OF DELIVERY

Amazon’s Air-Water-Land Push to Disrupt Delivery

Crystal gazing through the patents of the world’s largest retailer

Arun Rafi
Arun Rafi
Aug 13, 2019 · 5 min read

Customer Focus

If you read Amazon.com’s first shareholder letter from 1997, you will note it’s composition around one word — customers.

I’ll save you time by sharing that the word ‘customer/s’ is used 25 times. The next highest noun usage is of ‘Amazon’ — 12 times.

Customer Obsession

It is no surprise that ‘customer obsession’ is their №1 leadership principle from a list of 14. Earth’s most customer-centric company, is what they aspire to be.

Customer-focussed companies make the customer experience easier, faster, better, and more cost-effective and innovation plays a key role. Amazon is no exception.

Patents and Innovation

Proprietary innovation needs protection, and patents are a great reward for taking risks. Patents provide a glimpse into potential plans, and roadmaps of companies and that makes it fascinating.

A look at Amazon.com’s most interesting patents gives us a ring-side view of the future that awaits us.


Amazon Patents

Amazon.com Inc spent more than $13.6 billion on technology in 2018, making it the biggest corporate IT spender in the world. Alphabet and Walmart took the №2 and №3 position.

Amazon.com Inc. is becoming a force to reckon with and that makes looking at its patents a fascinating exercise. If 1-Click ordering raised the bar by a few notches, then the upcoming years are going to be a lot of fun.

Let’s move.

1. Anticipatory Package Shipping

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Anticipatory shipping uses predictive analytics to move inventory to locations closest to where it’s most likely to be purchased. Getting pre-orders as close to the customer reduces transport costs and can enable same-day and even same-hour deliveries.

The idea is to use troves of data to predict what customers want and then ship the products automatically. Same-day and probably same-hour could be a reality across a large range of products.

Faster delivery means a faster turnover of goods, which creates great efficiency. This will also encourage more people to shop online across categories like grocery, medicines and during holiday seasons.

But where will they store the inventory? Look up and then down to the next patent and you will find the answer.

2. Airborne Fulfillment Centers (AFC)

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AFC could be a possible way of storing packages.

The Airborne fulfilment centres would be a helium-powered blimp, at a height of 45,000 feet, that will hold goods and drones.

After receiving an order, an Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) will leave the AFC to make the order. When the UAV approaches earth, it will engage the motors and propellers to navigate towards the user destination. Once it reaches the location, it will disengage the ordered item and complete delivery.

Forget same-hour; this system might be able to make delivery in minutes. Imagine placing an order and looking up at the sky.

Now, hold on. ‘Disengaging’ items from a height is risky. Especially, if you have ordered a brand new T.V or potato chips.

How will Amazon make sure that the deliveries are safe? Let’s move on to the next patent.

3. Aerial Package Delivery System

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Your order could come with an envelope attached. Any guesses what's inside the envelope?

Boom! A Parachute.

After getting disengaged from the UAV, the parachutes function. The parachute will slow the parcel’s descent and its trajectory can be controlled by hydraulic or pneumatic valving systems.

The trajectory may be controlled by its drone, which hovers nearby, should the parcel go off-course due to wind or other factors.

Now, the parachutes are gliding down and you may have to catch your delivery.

Now, what happens if you are not there? Let’s move on to the next patent.

4. Robot Roommates

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Packages left on doorsteps? None to catch that drone-drop? Worry not.

Amazon’s AGV, Autonomous Ground Vehicle patent proposes retrieval robots stationed within homes and other buildings. These bots will fetch your packages from nearby drop locations.

This will also maximize the efficiency of dispatch vehicles. Instead of making several turns to deliver a pencil and a sharpener, an incoming truck would notify the robots of its arrival. The swarms of robots from your neighbourhood will then march towards a central pick-up point, where the truck would hand over individual orders.

5. The Multi-level Drone Airport

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Current warehouses have an efficiency problem. Given the large size, most are situated at the outskirts of the city. This makes delivery a time-consuming process, especially in urban centres.

The AFC is one solution. Another is the Multi-level (ML) Fulfilment Centres for UAVs.

The ML fulfilment centres will be built up, like a bee-hive and can be constructed in densely populated urban areas. The hives may hold humans and robots, and will certainly house drones as worker bees.

6. Underground Delivery Tunnels

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Called as the Dedicated Network Delivery System, this mechanism will have a network of tunnels, channels, pipes or beds with conveyor belts.

The items will be dispatched from source via subterranean or aboveground elements and will travel the underground network and can land to your nearest delivery centre or maybe even your home, from an underground cavity. Zoop!

This mechanism is aimed to significantly avoid congestion and enable faster delivery.

7. Aquatic Storage Facilities

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Now that we’ve covered land and air, how can water be left behind?

Amazon’s Aquatic Storage Facilities patent aims to build liquid-filled environments that allow packages to be stored and retrieved by manipulating the densities of the items within such environments.

The buoyancy created via liquid environment will significantly save the energy and time required to shift an item, as compared to a large warehouse.


Final Thoughts

Turning innovations from concept-to-commercialization is a long curve.

However, I can not help but smile and remember the futuristic cartoon that I grew up watching — The Jetsons. Jetsons showed us how the future will be in 2062. I think it will be the 2062 future might present itself much earlier.

In fact, it has already begun.

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