IBM has announced its been granted a patent for transferring packages between drones during flight. The invention described in US Patent No. 9,561,852: In flight transfer of packages between aerial drones helps to extend the range of drones that are delivering packages from a warehouse to a customer’s home. IBM inventors developed this patented system using their supply chain expertise to enable precise delivery services to customers using drones.
A number of companies have been working on systems for drone package deivery (e.g. Amazon, DHL) but IBM’s announcement seems to give them a leg up. The technology could potentially be licensed to other firms. IBM notes in their statement that there are challenges to drone delivery such as: “limited flight range, theft of unattended packages once delivered, and a lack of delivery network optimization”. They may have left out a couple of others like BVLOS, FAA regs in general, and lack of an established UTM system. But they are correct that this invention can help to mitigate some of these challenges by providing in-flight drone-to-drone package transfers to extend package delivery range.
For example, a customer expecting a package could dispatch a personal drone to receive and securely deliver the package to the customer’s home. Drone delivery network optimization could be provided to autonomous drones via the communications link described in the patent.
“Drones have the potential to change the way businesses operate and by leveraging machine learning, drones could change ecommerce,” said Sarbajit Rakshit, IBM Master Inventor and co-inventor on the patent. “Our inventor team is focused on improving how the most valuable cargo is delivered globally. This could create opportunities such as managing drones to deliver postal packages and medicine in developing countries via the most direct route.”
You can find more information about IBM’s patent work here.