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Multi-level fulfillment center
An illustration from a patent application for multi-level fulfillment centers shows drones swarming around the building. (Amazon Illustration via USPTO)

If filmmakers ever decide to do a remake of Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds,” with drones instead of birds, they could use Amazon’s concept for a drone-dominated fulfillment center in their set design.

The artwork, included in a patent application published today, shows a nine-story hive that’s swarming with drones. I’d hate to be the stick figure standing beneath that swarm.

A team of six Amazon inventors filed the application in 2015 with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in 2015. Their intent isn’t to stir up nightmares, but to secure the rights to a design that optimizes Amazon’s traditional fulfillment centers for drone deliveries in an urban environment.

“Unlike traditional fulfillment centers, the multi-level fulfillment centers may include many levels … as permitted under zoning regulations for respective areas,” the inventors write.

Drones could be deployed from perches placed around the exterior of the high-rise facility. One of the proposed designs looks as much like a beehive as you could possibly imagine. Another looks as if it could be the headquarters for Spacely Sprockets on “The Jetsons.”

Amazon's multi-level fulfillment centers
Three designs show different potential configurations for a multi-level fulfillment center. (Amazon Illustrations via USPTO)

Amazon’s fulfillment centers are typically sprawling, single-story warehouse-type buildings, taking up as much as a million square feet. But the patent application recognizes that such facilities are less likely to fly in urban environments.

Multi-level centers would have a footprint more fitting for a lot with limited square footage. Shipments could be brought in by conventional means, and could be held for customer pickup or delivered by ground vehicles. But the building is optimized for deliveries by drones, also known as unmanned aerial vehicles or UAVs.

The inventors say the center would be “configured to support a large volume of UAVs that continually pick up deliveries … and then deploy toward a destination for the particular delivery.”

The system could fulfill hundreds or thousands of orders per day, according to the patent application.

As Amazon gears up for drone deliveries, the company is devoting a lot of brain power to the challenges involved in making the drones less objectionable for the folks they’ll fly over.

For example, today’s patent filings also include a flurry of Amazon proposals for reducing propeller noise and making drones more fail-safe.

There’s no guarantee that Amazon will turn any of the patent applications into actual product features. And for what it’s worth, the company typically doesn’t comment on patents or applications until they’re turned into realities.

But if we see any building permits for a high-rise that’s shaped like a beehive and is peppered with drone-size perches, rest assured we’ll let you know before it haunts your dreams.

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