Amazon Patents a Self-Destructing Delivery Drone

Saturday, 02 December 2017 - 4:40PM
Technology
Gadgets
Saturday, 02 December 2017 - 4:40PM
Amazon Patents a Self-Destructing Delivery Drone
Amazon
Whenever you're watching a movie where the villain's doomsday device has a convenient "self-destruct" button that the hero heroically presses, you probably think to yourself, "Why did the villain even have that button? Who would want their invention to blow up?"

Turns out, the answer is Amazon, who just filed a patent for "directed fragmentation for unmanned airborne vehicles." According to the patent, the technology would allow the unmanned airborne vehicle (UAV) to disassemble itself and break apart when certain conditions are met in emergency situations.

Simplifying that language a little, an "unmanned airborne vehicle" is of course a drone, which Amazon has been looking into as a way to deliver packages, while "directed fragmentation" is a fancy way of saying "falls apart on purpose." It may not necessarily explode, but that is an option - the patent lists "springs, small explosive charges, compressed gas charges, or similar mechanisms" as possible ways to do the deed.



As for why Amazon wants drones which are capable of destroying themselves on command, it's for safety reasons. While that may sound counter-intuitive, much like any self-destruct button would, it's for the safety of things around the drone rather than the safety of the drone itself.

Because if a drone starts malfunctioning and is about to crash, it's much more of a threat in one piece than in several pieces. So if the fragmentation system detects an engine failure, propellor damage, or anything else that points to the drone falling out of the sky, it can activate the self-destruct process and cause the drone to break into several, more harmless pieces. 

The patent itself phrases it this way:

Opening quote
"When loss of flight operation is detected, the UAV can enter a fragmentation sequence mode. During the fragmentation sequence, one or more parts or components of the UAV can be released. In doing so, the weight, speed, air drag coefficient, and other factors related to the UAV can be altered. At the same time, the momentum and trajectory of the UAV are also altered."
Closing quote


The self-destructing sequence is still hypothetical at this point, and it may be awhile before Amazon's drones have this tech in place, much like how it'll be a long time before Amazon is regularly using drones to make deliveries. It has the drone technology ready to go, but implementing it on a massive scale will be a difficult task even for a corporate behemoth like Amazon.

And depending on what the drone was carrying before it "fragmented" itself to death, there's still going to be a mess made at the end. But if the drone's going down either way, then a cleanup of drone parts and packages is less trouble than a full-sized, heavy drone crashing through a window.
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