Amazon will soon be automating the warehouses of Whole Foods, the grocery they just purchased. This drive toward automation is highlighted by a “drone tower”, which looks like a giant beehive.
On December 7th 2016, Amazon made the world’s first drone delivery to a customer in Cambridgeshire, U.K. in 13 minutes.
Then, last March, Amazon demoed its system for the first time in the U.S. when a drone delivered sunscreen to attendees at a conference hosted in Palm Springs, CA.Amazon file 'drone tower' patent, will manage the robot hive of the future.Click To Tweet
Once the order is received at the Prime Air fulfillment center, a drone, with the package on board (up to 5 pounds), flies at over 400 feet of altitude to the customer within thirty minutes.
Still, Amazon Prime Air is facing regulatory issues which may take years for the FAA to clear up, like flying over populated areas. But that hasn’t stopped them from filing an Amazon drone tower patent, which will help facilitate these automated delivery systems.
Yet, Amazon is not the only horse in the drone delivery race.
Alphabet, Inc. (Google’s parent company) is also working on its drone delivery system: Project Wing. However, Amazon clearly has a leg up with its long experience in the delivery business and its trailblazing projects.
The Amazon Drone Tower Patent: an Automated Beehive
The Amazon drone delivery plan seems to be getting closer to being a reality. The company has filed a patent application for “drone towers” that would serve as fulfillment centers, for, we suppose, Amazon Prime Air.
The patent–which dates back to December 2015 but published by the Patent & Trademark Office on 22 June 2017–describes vertical structures that look like giant beehives from a sci-fi future.
The aim from these multi-storied distribution centers is to accommodate delivery drones in urban areas where they will be operating the most. From the Amazone drone tower patent filing:
“A multi-level (ML) fulfillment center is designed to accommodate landing and takeoff of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), possibly in an urban setting, such as in a densely populated area.
“Unlike traditional fulfillment centers, the ML fulfillment centers may include many levels (i.e., stories, floors, etc.) as permitted under zoning regulations for respective areas. The fulfillment center may have one or more landing locations and one or more deployment locations to accommodate UAVs, which may deliver at least some of the items from the fulfillment center to locations associated with customers.”
The tower will be to drones what the beehive is to bees; drones would take-off from there, carry out their missions (fulfill an order), and then get back for refueling or monitoring before the next order is received.
Amazon Robotizing Whole Foods Warehouses
Already the powerhouse of e-Commerce, Amazon is branching out to include grocery stores into its empire. Earlier this month, it was officially announced that Amazon has acquired Whole Foods Market, possibly the most forward-thinking grocer in the U.S.
Shelling out $13.7 billion USD to acquire WFM, Amazon made its biggest acquisition ever and sent shivers down the whole industry’s spine despite the two companies only having a 2.5% share of the food and beverages market.
On the same day the acquisition was announced, the stocks of major competitors (Walmart, Costco, Kroger, and others) plunged. Together, they lost a combined $22 billion USD of market value due to investors expecting Amazon to disrupt the business.
And these investors seem to be right, with the Amazon drone tower patent teasing a future only few could have imagined.
Only ten days after the acquisition, Amazon announced its intention to deploy robots into the distribution system of Whole Foods, which owns hundreds of sale points. Amazon’s robots will reduce labor costs and improve the efficiency of order fulfillment.