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An Amazon Fresh truck goes out for deliveries. (Image by Atomic Taco, via Flickr – CC BY-SA 2.0).

There’s been a lot of speculation about Amazon’s interest in self-driving delivery trucks, and a newly issued patent suggests that the Seattle-based retailer is putting a lot of thought into how such a system would work.

The patent, issued today, concentrates on how a wireless control system could help autonomous vehicles negotiate changes in reversible lanes.

The arrangement would keep self-driving cars and trucks in contact with a central roadway management system. That system would track how lanes are allocated, and could even shift lanes from one direction to the other depending on demand.

“The roadway management system can identify a period of time and a particular lane of the roadway that is best suited to assign to the autonomous vehicle while taking into account an outcome directive,” Amazon’s inventors explain.

A diagram from Amazon’s patent application, filed in November 2015, shows how a roadway management system would keep in touch with autonomous vehicles traveling in reversible lanes. (Amazon Illustration via USPTO)

Much of the attention relating to Amazon’s plans for autonomous systems has been focused on airborne delivery drones, which began serving a handful of customers in England last month. For what it’s worth, the lead inventor on the patent issued today is Jim Curlander, a technical adviser for the drone operation at Amazon Prime Air.

But ground-based transportation is still Amazon’s bread and butter. The company has gotten into the trucking business big time (and we’re not just talking about the Treasure Truck here). Adding autonomy to the paradigm is in line with current trends in transportation. A patent application published in September even outlined an arrangement that would let drones hitch rides on trucks or buses to get closer to their delivery destinations.

The fact that Amazon is patenting a vehicle control system doesn’t mean the company will be building, or even operating, its own self-driving trucks. But it does suggest Amazon has an interest in designing the system to control self-driving vehicles, whether they’re traveling through a city or across the country.

Amazon makes a practice of declining comment on its patents, but if we get any further information, we’ll update this item.

Also today: Amazon patents Treasure Truck amid expansion plans

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