You’ve probably read about Amazon’s ambitions to deliver purchases to its customers via drone – the Amazon Prime Air program. (It’s already being tested in the U.K.) If your concerns are anything like mine, you’re worried that with a fleet of delivery drones buzzing overhead, the possibility of some of them crashing in populated areas could injure people on the ground.

Well, Amazon is thinking about our safety. They may not be able to keep all of their delivery drones from dropping out of the sky, but the company has come up with a scheme to lessen the danger: the self-destructing drone.

Yeah, it sounds a bit crazy, but Amazon has applied for a patent on this new technology, which will make crashing safer than if a flight failure resulted in an intact Amazon drone and its package falling to the ground. The idea is that in the event of a major in-flight problem – say, a propellor failure, exploding battery, hail damage, or strong gust of wind – the drone would take itself apart and attempt to land the parts in safe areas as determined by a quick analysis of its current surroundings.

The envisioned “controlled crash” could, in theory, jettison different components of the drone at different times. The diagram below, from the patent application, shows how this might play out. Note how the package is being dropped on a tree, presumably so that it’s less likely to hit anyone, since depending on its weight that could be plenty dangerous. If there’s a body of water or park nearby, the self-destruct controller might try to aim drone parts there.

Amazon’s engineers envision a controlled crash for its delivery drones in the event of catastrophic flight failure.

Does this make you feel safer at the thought of delivery drones become commonplace in the near future? I suppose it’s safer than not having a plan for when a drone runs into catastrophic problems. Still, I’m skeptical – even though I do think it would be cool to have a package delivered by an autonomous drone.

Get ready for the future. It’s going to be strange. Possibly dangerous, too.


Further reading:

Amazon patents self-destructing drone that falls apart in an emergency
Engadget
December 1, 2017


Top photo credit: Amazon