back to article Amazon granted patent to put parachutes inside shipping labels

Amazon has been given a patent on a system to deliver packages from the sky via on-board parachutes. The Bezos Bunch has filed with the US Patent and Trademark Office and been granted a patent for a system that will cram parachutes into shipping labels. The on-board parachute functions as you would think: an adhesive label on …

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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    There once was a craze for toy parachutes launched from the ground. It was not unusual to see them dangling out of reach on an overhead telephone wire.

    1. bazza Silver badge

      This is Getting Out of Hand

      Indeed, and I don't see what value Amazon think this patent adds to their idea.

      If they're going to do delivery by drone, they're only going to be allowed to do so if the whole set up meets the requirements of the local aviation authorities. That means, amongst other things, that every aspect of drone flight, control and navigation is a safety critical system. We don't want drones buzzing around the place out of control, running out of battery power and landing on a motorway, crashing on to people, etc.

      Given that here in the UK at least the whole remote drone / UAV community has effectively been told "your systems will have to be certified as safety critical", one does wonder why anyone is persisting with the idea. Achieving certification for things as madly complicated as this is going to be ludicrously expensive. Realisation will eventually dawn I'm sure, but not until after a lot of people who should know better have spent a lot of someone elses money on false pretences.

      [Rabbit hole. When that realisation dawns it'll be very bad for the tech sector as a whole; if investors start thinking that the tech industry is leading them up the garden path with drone this, self-driving that, AI the next thing, then investment in tech could easily dry up altogether. There's a lot of money being poured into a lot of very ambitious projects that really have very little prospect of succeeding even if you did throw $billions at them, and investors will remember...]

      However, if by some miracle they actually managed to achieve some sort of certification, they'd have produced a drone system that doesn't drop need to randomly drop packages by parachute, so they won't need it.

      Pond

      In fact, dropping something by 'chute sounds like a way of introducing uncontrollable randomness into where the package actually ends up, which can be only a bad thing. What's to stop the package drifting off and landing in, for example, my pond? Are they also planning on using IP68 packaging? I can't see how they'd make that simple to open...

      1. Peter2 Silver badge

        Re: This is Getting Out of Hand

        and investors will remember...

        Doesn't seem to have stopped any number of asset bubbles in the past. The dot com bubble certainly didn't put investors off.

      2. PNGuinn Silver badge
        Trollface

        Re: This is Getting Out of Hand

        "In fact, dropping something by 'chute sounds like a way of introducing uncontrollable randomness into where the package actually ends up"

        So, prior art then.

      3. Nolveys Silver badge
        Flame

        Re: This is Getting Out of Hand

        @bazza

        We don't want drones buzzing around the place out of control, running out of battery power and landing on a motorway, crashing on to people, etc.

        Speak for yourself.

      4. itzman
        Thumb Down

        Re: This is Getting Out of Hand

        Well I already had one Amazon delivery that I found three weeks later after a period of intense rain languishing in the middle of the side garden after amazon claimed to have delivered it to the front porch.

        So it will merely formalize the random delivery of parcels into accessible recondite areas of unsuitable delivery.

        As I boy I spent many hours searching for model planes that had unexpectedly actually flown well enough to be outside of a 50 yard radius from launch.

        Perhaps this will be part of a 'citizens fitness' initiative.

      5. sabba

        Re: This is Getting Out of Hand

        There are likely two reasons for this patent. Firstly, it keeps the competitors guessing. Secondly, it's a market disruptor. Are they ever likely to use it? I doubt it. But if they do find some way to make it feasible then the presence of the patent makes it harder for their competitors to copy and probably dissuades them from exploring similar avenues. To be honest: enclosing a parachute in a container - how is that even allowed as a patent?

      6. Baldrickk Silver badge
        Joke

        Re: This is Getting Out of Hand

        "Pond

        In fact, dropping something by 'chute sounds like a way of introducing uncontrollable randomness into where the package actually ends up, which can be only a bad thing. What's to stop the package drifting off and landing in, for example, my pond? "

        At least with all the bubble-wrap it'll float

    2. chivo243 Silver badge

      I now live in a country where there are no overhead power or coms lines in residential areas and most city centers. I'm told there are many advantages.

      1. Swiss Anton

        "...no overhead power or coms lines in residential areas..."

        No overhead wires here either, but within a 100 ft of where I'm sitting there is a big tree, some lampposts and of course the roofs of the houses in my street.

        1. Baldrickk Silver badge

          "No overhead wires here either, but within a 100 ft of where I'm sitting there is a big tree, some lampposts and of course the roofs of the houses in my street."

          The same here, plus being under the landing path of a small-ish airport (busy with private jets, not airlines or light aircraft)

          I'm sure delivery drones would be well received...

    3. Amorous Cowherder
      Facepalm

      Can wait for the first lawsuit for several million dollars when some kid gets put into a coma by a falling box of spanners ordered off Bezos tat market.

  2. chuckufarley
    WTF?

    Ooooh, It Makes Me Wonder...

    ...what percentage of sky diving parachutes have suffered some form of malfunction in the past decade.

    It *really* makes me wonder...

    1. Rustbucket

      Re: Ooooh, It Makes Me Wonder...

      Probably far fewer failures than parcels mis-delivered by land going couriers.

      1. DavCrav Silver badge

        Re: Ooooh, It Makes Me Wonder...

        "Probably far fewer failures than parcels mis-delivered by land going couriers."

        Does a mis-delivery have the same kind of, well, impact?

    2. Blofeld's Cat
      Coat

      Re: Ooooh, It Makes Me Wonder...

      "...what percentage of sky diving parachutes have suffered some form of malfunction in the past decade."

      It's a very hard statistic to collect as, for some reason, very few of the failed-parachute owners ever return them for refund.

    3. Orv Silver badge

      A quick Google search for parachute failures netted figures between 1 in 333 and 1 in 1000, with the most reputable estimates seeming to be around 1 in 750.

      Keep in mind recreational skydivers carry a reserve 'chute as well as their main 'chute, and the reserves have a pretty low failure rate, so most of these aren't fatalities.

      I don't think 1 in every 1000 packages plummeting from the sky is going to be very successful, although I am reminded of the Schlock Mercenary observation that "anything can be air-dropped at least once."

      1. Ochib
        Headmaster

        The Seventy Maxims of Maximally Effective Mercenaries

        11. Everything is air-droppable at least once

        1. Swarthy Silver badge

          Re: The Seventy Maxims of Maximally Effective Mercenaries

          Numbers 14: ("Mad Science" means never stopping to ask "what's the worst thing that could happen?") and 32 (Anything is amphibious if you can get it back out of the water) also seem to apply here.

    4. LeeE Silver badge

      Re: Ooooh, It Makes Me Wonder...

      Well, if it gets tangled in overhead lines, as mentioned earlier in the thread, then she might want to reconsider buying a stairway to heaven and start looking at cherry pickers instead.

  3. Bruce Ordway

    Depending where you wnat to land

    I thought I saw Amazon is already using parachutes to drop packages in Africa?

    Seemed like a good idea..... for remote areas.

    1. Doctor_Wibble
      Headmaster

      Re: Depending where you wnat to land

      The one I remembered was using longer-range winged variety (possibly actual UAVs?) but couldn't remember where from - from the report is looked like they had started with a fairly Heath-Robinson setup and worked from there.

      A few examples => mentioned here though I couldn't be sure if any were the one I remembered...

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    All I need now is a net with a long handle to catch falling packages.

    I wonder how Amazon would stop that from happening.

    1. AndyS

      I don't quite understand this fear. It's not like it's ever been hard to steal packages from people's porches, front gardens, garden sheds etc.

      What is stopping people is, mostly, honesty, and that will continue to stop most people. Of course those who that won't stop, already aren't stopped from stealing.

    2. Robert Moore
      Joke

      I believe you can buy long handled nets on Amazon. :)

      Not sure if they will ever be delivered though.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    how about a shark shipping label ...

    ... for deliveries in, or near aquatic environments? This will have the added benefit of saving me the bother of gluing my new lasers to a fresh shark each time I upgrade.

  6. redpawn Silver badge

    It would work if..

    the shipping label also deployed a harpoon and a spool of monofilament. A ballistic harpoon would leave the package targeting the delivery site and a small motor would spool the line in so the parachute would land the package on target every time, thus avoiding the problem of shifting wind.

    1. Kevin McMurtrie Silver badge

      Re: It would work if..

      Excellent, it sounds like we've nailed down all the safety issues at this point and the product is ready to pierce the market.

      1. MrT

        Re: It would work if..

        ... there was some way to embed an anchor point sensor into logos from Nickleson, McKenzie, Schott, Fubu, Eto, No Fear, Carbrini, Paul's Boutique, Superdry, Lonsdale, etc. IoT - Internet of Targets. It might clear the streets a bit, but one of the downsides​ is that all deliveries made this way would end up sat outside the nearest Sports Direct store...

    2. PNGuinn Silver badge
      Holmes

      Re: It would work if.. @redpawn

      If they could ensure accuracy of the harpoon it would also drastically reduce the number of customer returns ...

    3. Trollslayer Silver badge
      Mushroom

      Re: It would work if..

      Unless there was a bug that made it target the customer not the address.

    4. Blofeld's Cat
      Childcatcher

      Re: It would work if..

      Perhaps we should do away with the drone and parachute and instead deliver the packages by harpoon...

      FX: Whoosh, thud, distant cry of pain, phone rings

      Ahab: "Call me back Ishmael, I've got more deliveries to make."

  7. Neil Barnes Silver badge
    Black Helicopters

    One of the things you can't do in the UK

    under the Air Navigation Orders, is to cause anything to be dropped from an aircraft other than pure water or clean fine sand (ballast, basically). The military get an exemption for go-bang stuff, and parachutists are considered aircraft in their own right (but who on earth would get out of a perfectly good aircraft and hope theirs starts to work on the way down?).

    Hard to see which category a parcel of books fits into.

    1. MrT

      Re: One of the things you can't do in the UK

      Books might be heavy, but sit at the more friendly end of Amazon's freefall ordnance catalogue. Back to WW1 with a nice box of lawn darts...?

    2. Mage Silver badge

      USPTO

      Bigger idiots than Amazon.

    3. Kiwi

      Re: One of the things you can't do in the UK

      (but who on earth would get out of a perfectly good aircraft and hope theirs starts to work on the way down?).

      Have done it once and would jump at the chance to do it again.

      Short of a couple of religious experiences, Skydiving is the most fun thing I've ever done in my life, and I am someone quite scared of heights. I got to do a tandem jump some years back and would love to be able to do it again! Doesn't last nearly as long as mountain climbing (which I've done a bit of), but is way more fun and you get the view without the massive workout! :)

      Thoroughly recommend it to anyone else!

      (Again, El Reg is lacking anything even close to an appropriate icon)

  8. Sgt_Oddball Silver badge
    Megaphone

    Air mail..

    Does it also specify the load baring rate of the box and adhesive properties in low temperatures?

    Not to mention moist weather.

    Just imagine, one short sharp jolt as the parachute opens and suddenly it's raining contents as the box falls apart.

    Maybe an air raid siren might be in order to warn people below?

  9. Dave Bell

    I though a patent was supposed to describe the invention in sufficient detail to make a working copy

    1. heyrick Silver badge

      Sounds to me like a bogus patent to stifle potential innovation by competitors. With the news, everybody now knows Amazon is working with the idea of parachute parcels (and they have exclusive patent on it). If it comes to nothing, no worries. But if it's the new big thing - let's talk licencing! (kerching!!!)

      1. Ledswinger Silver badge

        Sounds to me like a bogus patent to stifle potential innovation by competitors.

        Sounds to me like a pointless patent from a department who's KPIs and bonuses include a target for number of patents filed. Amazon don't see themselves as the same "big warehouse + tax dodging webshop" that the rest of us do, they think they're a cutting edge technology company, the sort that thrives on intellectual property. There will be entire divisions devoted to research, and to prove their worth they'll be patenting anything they can, regardless of real world value.

        If there's nothing else, they'll happily patent "Disclosed is a unique and innovative system of lifting one buttock to reduce stress on the anal sphincter, thus reducing the probability of noisy flatus" and hope that (as usual) USPO ignore all the evidence of prior art.

      2. Sgt_Oddball Silver badge

        The patent does describe using a delivery box....

        So just use a different shape. Problem solved.

        (Delivery cones anyone? And if its delivering more than one package does that make it a MIRV platform?)

    2. The Mole

      They are also meant to be inventive.

      I'm pretty sure delivering goods by dropping them out of aircraft attached to parachutes is not inventive.

      Having labels on them describing where they should be dropped isn't inventive.

      Self adhesive parachute connectors may be inventive I guess - after all most people would want a better guarantee that the parachute stays attached to the cargo all the way down.

  10. DougS Silver badge

    Just what I always wanted

    To have my packages conveniently delivered onto my roof, or a neighbor's tree!

    1. BongoJoe Silver badge

      Re: Just what I always wanted

      Just what I always wanted

      To have my packages conveniently delivered onto my roof, or a neighbor's tree!

      At least Amazon can't patent that idea because it's already been done...

  11. Milton Silver badge

    Why?

    Why would a well worn idea - dropping stuff by chute - get a patent from anyone?

    Why would Amazon think this is any less dangerous than thousands of drones flying over populated areas?

    1. Mage Silver badge

      Re: Why?

      Or indeed most of the stuff the USPTO approves.

      It's SIMPLE.

      They get more income from approvals and searching costs money. The "real" system is to unapprove by taking a court case.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      WTF?

      Re: Why?

      "Why would a well worn idea - dropping stuff by chute - get a patent from anyone?"

      Sigh...did you even look at what is being patented?

      Hint, it's not a parachute,.

  12. heyrick Silver badge

    It would also solve some of the issues surrounding drones flying at low altitudes near power lines and other potential hazards.

    Solve...? Solve? If there are hazards to flying smallish "controllable" devices, how does dropping a very much larger and completely uncontrollable parachute solve anything?

  13. HKmk23

    Perhaps

    This is why Kim Kong Unhinged is developing missile technology.... to handle returns? Glad I don't live anywhere near Amazon Way, Dunfermline in Fife!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Perhaps

      Returns are easily handled if the 'Monofilament' idea is used !!! :)

      You have in the package a small 'Dayglo' Balloon with a canister of Helium (size of a CO2 bulb for a Soda Syphon).

      You attach the Balloon to the Monofilament and the package to the other end.

      Release the Balloon and the balloon acts as a target for a slow motion 'Skyhook' manoeuvre by drone.

      The drone can then wind up the Monofilament to obtain the package.

      [All perfectly safe, no bursts Balloons, snapped Monofilament or packages bursting open !!! :) ]

      When flying taxis are allowed, we can go for the real 'Skyhook' manoeuvre, under contract to Amazon via UberAir or whoever :)

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