Amazon‘s Prime Air drone delivery gurus are thinking big, and the latest patent filing revealed shows the e-commerce giant using drones to eliminate a major barrier for electric vehicles: the fear of running out of charge.
Amazon’s patent shows a plan for drones to latch on to electric cars and charge on demand – even while the car is driving. It’s an idea that could make it well worth a Prime membership for any Tesla owner stuck in traffic.
The abstract is pretty simple.
Devices such as vehicles, remote sensors, and so forth consume energy during operation. Described herein are systems, devices, and methods for transferring energy from an uncrewed autonomous vehicle to a vehicle such as a car. The uncrewed autonomous vehicle may locate the vehicle at a rendezvous location, and connect with the vehicle while the vehicle moves. Once the uncrewed autonomous vehicle connects to the vehicle, the uncrewed autonomous vehicle may transfer the energy to the vehicle.
And the patent’s background section has to work hard to make the basic problem sound complicated: “…Depletion of onboard energy may render the device inoperable. Continuing the example, the vehicle may have insufficient energy onboard to reach a recharging station thus stranding the vehicle. Depletion may result in an adverse user experience. ”
That “adverse user experience” – running out of charge while you’re stuck in traffic – is a frequently cited barrier to the adoption of electric cars. Solving the problem with drones brings the problem from one of massive infrastructure change – putting charging stations along roadways – to one much simpler and smaller scale.
The patent points out that the technology could be used with a number of different alternative fuels, not just battery power:
The vehicle may include an energy source that provides energy to perform processes for the vehicle. The energy source may use one or more of electric, chemical, or mechanical devices to store energy for operation of the vehicle. In one example, the energy source includes one or more batteries that supply electric energy to the vehicle. The batteries may be single use or rechargeable. During use of the vehicle, energy is drawn from the batteries. In other examples, the energy source includes fuel cells, internal combustion engines, external combustion engines, or other devices to produce energy.
When compared to some of the previous patents that the company has filed, which include a giant blimp in space as a floating warehouse and birdhouse like drone charging stations on top of city lights, this idea seems to have the potential to provide significant value for consumers – and to be simple enough that it might actually work someday.