Amazon granted patent for balloon-based delivery vehicle

Internet giant Amazon has been granted a patent for a delivery vehicle that looks to be a combination of drone technology with old-fashioned hot air balloon style lift.

The idea appears to be an attempt to have an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) that can shift into a quiet airship-style function when it enters areas where noise needs to be limited.

The patent describes how a UAV could have an “inflatable membrane” within the chassis that could be inflated from compressed gas. This is perhaps more likely to be a lighter-than-air gas like helium rather than heating the air to provide lift, as is the case with hot air balloons. Once inflated, the balloon would provide lift for the UAV, meaning its propellers would only have to handle positioning, thus reducing the noise they produce.

The idea goes further in that the balloon will not just help provide lift, much like a miniature zeppelin, it will also help in the descent to delivery locations and the subsequent ascent. For example, the balloon could be used to quietly reach a cruising altitude, at which point the balloon could be deflated before the drone switches back to the usual propeller-based propulsion.

The patent also describes how the fragile balloon will be kept away from the fast-moving propellers as it retracts back into the chassis, with the gas either being recompressed or allowed to escape. Using a detachable, disposable balloon is also mentioned, with it being biodegradable after it is released.

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