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Amazon Patent Design To Whip Cargo Into Orbit

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Rachael Funnell

Social Editor and Staff Writer

clockFeb 18 2020, 19:51 UTC
Amazon patent whip design to launch payloads into the air, Amazon Illustration via USPTO

Amazon patent whip design to launch payloads into the air. Amazon Illustration via USPTO

Many of us have faced the frustration of waiting eagerly for a package to arrive only to find a slip informing us that the couriers “tried to deliver” it. Worse still is when they stretch the meaning of storing it in a “safe place” to include your bin (just before bin day) or the roof of your house. But if you think delivery drivers are a risky business, wait until you see this mega-whip Amazon has just patented to yeet payloads into the sky and possibly even low Earth orbit, first reported by GeekWire

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With online sales expected to account for 53 percent of all retail sales in the UK by 2028, novel ways for transporting cargo faster and with a smaller carbon footprint are a big focus for online retailers. In response to rising demand and reach, it seems Amazon is looking to the skies for solutions as their recent patent outlines the design for a ship that can whip payloads into low orbit via an enormous cable. One application for the device involves the payloads reaching tethers that can then further transport them into space, potentially even making it far enough to make contact with close-range spacecraft. Perhaps not an ideal journey for that Faberge egg you recently bought online. 

The patent document, filed in 2017 and published last week, describes “an energy-efficient launch system that utilizes the principles of whip dynamics to launch payloads at high speeds.” While sounding like the sort of idea you’d cook up in a hot-boxed basement listening to Devo, the team write that it could one day constitute a more-energy efficient method of propelling cargo into space.

The idea, proposed by Amazon Prime Air VP Gur Kimchi and co-written by Amazon inventor Louis LeRoi LeGrand III, aims to launch items into space on the end of a whip, assisted by a veritable squadron of drones attached to the cable. It's thought the number of drones involved will impact how far the whip could reach, with the patent proposing "the second end of the cable may reach, at its highest point, an altitude of up to approximately 500 feet, 2000 feet, or 60,000-70,0000 feet (152 meters, 610 meters, or 18,300 meters)."

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The lead goal for the unusual apparatus is that it will allow items to reach space without the need for rocket-fueled propulsion, with further, more domestic uses including launching delivery drones for worldwide purchases. 

Meanwhile, some are speculating that the apparatus could be utilized to launch Amazon’s Project Kuiper mega-constellation consisting of 3,236 satellites, which aims to provide “equitable access to spectrum and orbital resources [that] will increase investment, innovation, and consumer choice,” according to a letter penned by Mariah Dodson Shuman, corporate counsel for Kuiper Systems, Amazon’s satellite subsidiary, to GeekWire.

Whether or not the patent will ever come to fruition is not yet known, with Amazon having previously posited some pretty wild inventions that never came to be, including a smart phone with a built-in airbag to prevent cracked screens. In a statement to GeekWire, a spokesperson from Amazon said such patents “do not necessarily reflect [its] current product roadmap. Like many companies, we file a number of forward-looking patent applications that explore the full possibilities of new technology.”

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If all else fails, The Onion have suggested an alternative way whips could be used to speed up deliveries.

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[H/T: GeekWire]


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