Sometimes we think that part and parcel of living in a developing country is infrastructure and transport that isn’t always up to the same standard as first world stuff. But what if times they are a’changing?
Business Insider recently had a fascinating article about Amazon drone research and what it means for train maintenance. The article talked about the fact that Amazon is heavily investing in drones, and one day hopes to use the unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to revolutionise deliveries.
It’s all still early stages — but public patent filings can offer us tantalising glimpses of what Amazon’s engineers are thinking about and experimenting as they develop the tech.
While this may have Sci-Fi connotations for getting a pizza delivery, the implications extend all the way to your morning train commute. Apparently, a key problem facing any drone deliveries is batteries and maintenance. When your drones are in the shop getting fixed, they’re not helping you make any money — so how do you keep them charged and in the air for as long as possible? Here Amazon’s new patents come in – a possible solution could be a fleet of mobile maintenance facilities based on trains and other modes of transportation.
This is what Amazon’s patent filing published by the United States Patent and Trademark Office said:
“Intermodal vehicles may be loaded with items and an aerial vehicle, and directed to travel to areas where demand for the items is known or anticipated. The intermodal vehicles may be coupled to locomotives, container ships, road tractors or other vehicles, and equipped with systems for loading one or more items onto the aerial vehicle, and for launching or retrieving the aerial vehicle while the intermodal vehicles are in motion. The areas where the demand is known or anticipated may be identified on any basis, including but not limited to past histories of purchases or deliveries to such areas, or events that are scheduled to occur in such areas. Additionally, intermodal vehicles may be loaded with replacement parts and/or inspection equipment, and configured to conduct repairs, servicing operations or inspections on aerial vehicles within the intermodal vehicles, while the intermodal vehicles are in motion.”
So, Amazon is exploring the idea of building special facilities that can store, repair, and deploy drones, and pre-emptively moving products and drones to areas of anticipated demand (based on seasonal trends, say, or a special event in the area) before launching them. Proof? Amazon has also previously filed for a patent for a beehive-like tower for storing its fleets of drones — or as it calls it, a “multi-level fulfilment centre for unmanned aerial vehicles.”
Now, all this is years away, but this could mean amazing things for developing countries’ infrastructure way down the line. Why? Because it takes shortage of skilled labour or cost of labour out of the equation for countries that have budget constraints, potential corruption constraints and specialised skills shortages – all obstacles South Africa is arguably facing. We all remember the difficulties surrounding creating infrastructure for the 2010 Word Cup – what if drones had been involved? Who knows how much easier, faster and more effective things would have been?
What’s even better is that because we’re arguably talking a new kind of maintenance, it would not take any jobs away from people.
So what do you think, GoMetropolitans? Good idea, bad idea, interesting idea? Let us know and have great weeks!