It seems as if the Helicarrier from the popular Marvel’s Avengers comic books and movies will become something of a reality. Amazon, the giant e-commerce store that has been used by hundreds of millions of users around the planet, has recently won a patent for a flying warehouse.
According to a report from NBC News, Amazon filed a patent for an “airborne fulfillment center” which will act as a home base for the company’s drones in order to refuel and refill on goods. These large centers will constantly remain in the air, at approximately 45,000 feet. Amazon believes the process will prove very simple, with customers ordering an item, and having a nearby drone drop down from a delivery center and deliver said item.
The patent also describes that the process will require little power on the drone’s part, stating “when the UAV departs the AFC, it may descend from the high altitude of the AFC using little or no power other than to guide the UAV towards its delivery destination and/or to stabilize the UAV as it descends.”
The patent also describes other potential, practical uses for the AFC. Primarily, Amazon plans for the distribution centers to be used at sporting events, where viewers might want food or merchandise. They can place orders for an item, and have a nearby drone deliver it quickly. The AFCs could also be used as enormous billboards for merchandise. The patent also describes how the drones and fulfillment centers would use mesh networks to communicate with one another.
This is not Amazon’s first foray into the drone delivery market. Just this month, the company’s first ever drone delivery was successfully completed in the U.K., proving that the much talked about process is possible.
Although Amazon has won the patent and has intricate details describing the process and intentions of the AFCs, this does not necessarily mean that they will even see the light of day. It does, however, mean that the possibility of these AFCs filling up the airways is one step closer to becoming real. And it begs the question: is this a good idea? Should we have these large, helicarrier-esque distribution centers hovering above our heads at all times? What would happen if one of those giant centers were to lose power and drop to the ground, potentially killing millions of people? How would these centers be powered, and, depending on the type of fuel, what effects would they have on the environment? And, again, even though Amazon may never actually create the distribution centers, these are very real questions that need to be asked if they plan on moving forward.