HomeAmazon Patent Reveals How Delivery Drones Could Avoid Crashing Into Your Home

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Ryan Mac

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When Amazon.com AMZN +0.89% revealed its latest design for drone delivery on Sunday, many were awed by actual footage of the half-helicopter, half-airplane vehicle shown in the company’s slick marketing video. Others had questions: How long would it take for the delivery drones to be used in real life? And when they are launched, what will ensure those flying robots won’t crash into buildings, birds or other obstacles?

Some answers to those questions lie in a pending patent that Amazon filed last year, but was published two months ago, for technology that will help drones navigate around objects in their flight paths. On Oct. 1, the U.S. Patent And Trademark Office revealed the Seattle-based retailer’s filing for “sense and avoid for automated vehicles,” which details how its UAVs would use laser, sonar and other signals to perform necessary tasks like planning routes, negotiating obstacles and landing.

Achieving sense-and-avoid capabilities to allows for fuller UAV automation is one of the highest priorities for Amazon’s drone delivery unit, Prime Air, and its leader Gur Kimchi. Listed as one of five inventors on the patent, Kimchi has acknowledged the scrutiny surrounding delivery drones in past discussions with FORBES and noted that he realizes that one bad incident could prove disastrous for a nascent industry. To prevent that from happening, Amazon has stressed that it will not launch its program to the public until it can demonstrate complete safety using features like sense and avoid.

“While there are many beneficial uses of these vehicles, they also have many drawbacks,” Amazon’s new patent reads. “For example, UAVs require involvement to ensure that the vehicles do not collide with other UAVs or other objects.”