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Amazon drone would dismantle itself in sky, rain down parts

Ethan Baron, The Mercury News on

Published in Science & Technology News

Nobody wants a drone falling on their head, especially if it's a drone large enough to deliver packages for Amazon.

But the e-commerce behemoth clearly sees a future in which bad things happen to good technology, and a malfunctioning drone ought not plummet from the sky.

Better to do it piece by piece.

Amazon has just received a patent outlining a possible plan for "directed fragmentation for unmanned airborne vehicles" used in deliveries.

"The use of UAVs is accompanied by the need for new solutions to various problems, such as service disruptions due to unsuitable weather conditions, equipment malfunctions, and other problems," reads the text of the patent, which the Seattle firm applied for in June 2016 and received Tuesday.

Core to the technology is a "fragmentation sequence" that the drone constantly updates with an eye to flight path, flying conditions and what lies in the terrain below.

 

"Terrain topology information or data can identify certain preferred locations for dropping one or more of the components of the UAV," the patent document says.

"For example, the terrain topology information can identify bodies of water, forested areas, open fields, and other locations more suitable for dropping components of the UAV if or when flight operation errors, malfunctions, or unexpected conditions occur.

"Terrain topology data can identify the locations and boundaries of residential, commercial, and industrial buildings and developments, highways and surface streets, parking lots, stadiums, schools, recreational areas, and other artificial features."

What might cause an Amazon delivery drone to need to divest itself from itself, in parts?

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