First Successful FAA Drone Delivery? There’s a Google Patent for That

Today will go down in history: a new distribution channel has arrived. While it is not as glorious as the Inter-Webs, getting deliveries by drone is kind of a big deal. What took 90 minutes of arduous driving now takes 20 by a little flying machine. Emergency supplies, fresh medicine, and not to forget, warm pizza and cold beer, are all within a closer, more palpable and environmentally-friendly reach.

Australian drone manufacturer Flirtey was the maid of honor, lowering 4.5kg of medical supplies onto a landing pad in rural Virginia. The packages were lowered by a winch mechanism, released, and the line retracted back into the drone.

As commendable Flirtey is for this milestone, the mechanism used to drop off the goods may one day infringe a patent that will be issued to Google.

It is no secret that Google wants to get into the drone delivery game, and filed for a vague patent to protect the task of carefully dropping stuff from a UAV.

The application states the invention is to “Safely lower medical devices and/or supplies from a UAV that is hovering above the scene of a medical situation. In an example embodiment, a UAV may include a winch system that is controllable to vary the rate at which a payload on a line is lowered towards the ground. The UAV may further include a control system that is configured to determine and deploy the payload according to a variable deployment-rate plan that is tailored to the particular environment and/or the particular situation in which the payload is being deployed from the UAV.”

The first claim is pretty broad, and the only inventive portion (to me) seems that there has to be a way to determine that the box has touched the ground, or is about to touch the ground:

Claim 1. An unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) comprising:

  • a housing;
  • a payload;
  • a line-deployment mechanism coupled to the housing and a line, wherein the line-deployment mechanism is controllable to vary a deployment rate of the line;
  • a payload-release mechanism that couples the line to the payload, wherein the payload-release mechanism is configured to release the payload from the line;
  • and a control system configured to determine that the UAV is located at or near a delivery location and responsively: operate the line-deployment mechanism according to a variable deployment-rate profile to lower the payload to or near to the ground, wherein the variable deployment-rate profile is such that the rate at which the line is deployed varies while the payload is being lowered to the ground;
  • determine that the payload is touching or is within a threshold distance from the ground;
  • and responsively operate the payload-release mechanism to release the payload from the line.

 

Title: “MECHANISM FOR LOWERING A PAYLOAD TO THE GROUND FROM A UAV”

US Patent Application Publication No: 20150158587

Filed (USA): August 26, 2013

Published: June 11, 2015

Is it that guy? That guy? No, it's THAT guy!
Is it that guy? That guy? No, it’s THAT guy!

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