Drones that pass packages to each other could be the future of home delivery
But today's drones can only travel so far — so what happens when you live out of range of a distribution hub?
On Wednesday, IBM Research announced a patent that might someday allow delivery drones to pass off packages to one another mid-flight to create a relay system, extending a supply chain's reach even farther.
The customer could even become more active in the supply chain with this type of tech in place. IBM Research envisions a scenario in which a customer might even send out their own personal drone to receive packages in mid-flight in order to get the payload in their hands (or at least on their drone) ASAP.
If one part of the system fails — for instance, if a drone is knocked out of the sky and doesn't make it to the relay point — an IBM spokesperson told us via email the missing drone could easily be tracked using its on-board GPS system, and others could be easily and even automatically dispatched in its place.
E-commerce fulfillment isn't the only potential use for a drone relay-based supply chain. “Our inventor team is focused on improving how the most valuable cargo is delivered globally," Sarbajit Rakshit, the co-inventor of the patent wrote in a statement emailed to Mashable. "This could create opportunities such as managing drones to deliver postal packages and medicine in developing countries via the most direct route.”
While the transfer system exists only in patent form and hasn't even been tested yet, the IBM spokesperson told us the company is "confident" the system could be built and tested within the limits of current drone technology.
IBM's relay drones aren't as aggressive as the massive drone-spewing mothership design that was unearthed in Amazon's USPTO filings earlier this year. Both supply chain solutions could potentially extend delivery ranges and make airdrops more accessible — but only one does it without aircrafts that look like Imperial Star Destroyers.