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Drone visualization
This computer visualization shows the airflow for NASA’s modified design of a complete DJI Phantom 3 quadcopter configuration in hover mode. (NASA Ames Graphic / Patricia Ventura Diaz)

Amazon is well-known for developing delivery drones, and for delivering data through Amazon Web Services — so it had to be only a matter of time before someone at Amazon came up with the idea of delivering data via drones.

Actually, Abdul Sathar Sait came up with the idea back in 2014, when he was a principal product manager at AWS. And although he has since moved on to Oracle Cloud, Amazon officially has the patent as of today.

The patent application for “Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Data Services” describes a system by which network users can put in an order for enhanced data services, and have a drone flown out to the user’s location to provide those services.

Here’s how Sait put it in the patent application:

“The UAV may include a large-capacity [data] storage device and a high-speed data interface. If the user computing device is located at a remote location where network bandwidth may be scarce, or if the amount of data is too large relative to the network bandwidth, an associate user may turn to the UAV.”

The drone could carry equipment to beef up a wireless data network’s throughput when bandwidth would otherwise be scarce. Or it could upload data from the user’s computer and carry it someplace else for transfer to a central data server, like a honeybee carrying loads of pollen to the hive.

Drone data service
This schematic shows how a user with a connected device (left) could send a request to a central server (right) to deploy a drone capable of providing beefed-up data services for the user’s device. (Amazon Illustration via USPTO)

Of course, there’d have to be a strong authentication system — to confirm that users are who they say they are, that they’re in the proper location for transmission, and that the data streams are being transmitted securely to the right places. The patent application includes an extra suggestion for foiling hackers:.

“Multiple UAVs may be deployed to provide security. For example, rather than providing a whole block of data from the recipient computing device to the UAV, the data may be divided into sub-blocks. Each of the blocks may be provided to one of the UAVs. As such, if one of the UAVs is compromised (e.g., the corresponding computing system is accessed by an unauthorized third party), only the corresponding sub-block of data may be at risk, rather than the whole data block.”

Users of the drone data services could be charged a fee based on several factors. “For example, the higher the number of UAVs, the more distant the recipient computing device, the larger data amount, or the faster delivery may be, the higher the charge may become,” Sait writes.

Could this idea fly? It’s probably not workable on a widescale basis until the Federal Aviation Administration approves procedures for commercial drones to fly autonomously beyond an operator’s line of sight. And for what it’s worth, none of the 10 federally approved drone demonstration projects mentions on-demand data services as an application that’s being tested.

Amazon typically doesn’t comment on its patents, and there’s no guarantee that the company will turn this one into reality. Nevertheless, we’ve reached out to Amazon and will pass along anything we hear back. Small drones plus big data … that’s hard to resist.

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