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Amazon drone delivery
An Amazon delivery drone prepares to descend toward its target during a test run in England. One of Amazon’s patents covers a system that would eject packages from as high as 500 feet. (Amazon via YouTube)

Amazon has come up with some wild and crazy patents, but a patent issued today has to rank among the wildest: It calls for turning the packages ejected by its delivery drones into radio-controlled gliders.

The patent application was filed back in 2015, months before the Seattle-based retailing giant unveiled its initial design for delivery drones. There’s no indication that the concept has been incorporated into Amazon’s prototype systems. But don’t be surprised if someday you see your package of potato chips winging its way into your back yard.

The maneuvering system, developed by a team of inventors including Brian Beckman and a trio of Israelis, calls for ejecting the packages from drones while they’re in flight. A spring-loaded shooter, a drogue parachute or a set of actuators could do the trick.

The key is to push the package off the drone while it’s flying, with just enough forward force to turn a parabolic drop into a basically vertical descent.

On the way down, the drone would be in contact with the package via a radio link. The package could carry multicolored markings so that a camera on the drone could tell exactly how it’s oriented on the way down.

Amazon delivery descent
A diagram shows how a package could be maneuvered during its descent from a drone. (Amazon Illustration via USPTO)

There would be control flaps on the package, which the drone could maneuver remotely to guide the package to its intended target. Parachutes could also deploy from the package to slow the descent.

Depending on the system, the package could be ejected from as low as 10 feet or as high as 500 feet, according to the patent application.

It may sound like a lot of trouble to get a package down to the ground, but the inventors say the payoff could be worth the extra trouble in some scenarios:

“A technical advantage of incorporating a package delivery system into a UAV [unmanned aerial vehicle] is that the sequence of a UAV landing and taking off for each package delivery can be eliminated, thereby creating time and energy resource efficiencies that improve the benefit of adopting a network system of UAVs. Further, an ability to cause a package to descend through a vertical trajectory rather than a parabolic trajectory can be advantageous when attempting a delivery in an area with limited open space, such as an alley or a fenced back yard.”

Some of Amazon’s patents are definitely not meant to be incorporated into the company’s products anytime soon, particularly when it comes to drones. For examples, you need look no further than its plans for drone deliveries from flying warehouses, or its system for connecting multiple drones to create a bigger, Lego-like (or Borg-like) super-drone.

Are glide-worthy packages a similarly blue-sky idea, or are they a future frontier for drone deliveries? Amazon makes a habit of not commenting on its patents until they turn into commercial realities, but in the meantime … watch the skies.

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