Well, once you see the ideas, the idea of mobile distribution centers seems almost obvious, but that’s the result of creating thinking from Amazon.com and Mercedes, in moves that will almost certainly lead to more innovation in this area.
First, to Amazon, for which news broke in late December that it had been awarded a US patent in April for what it calls an “airborne fulfillment center” or AFC.
Supply Chain Digest Says…
The AFC is a blimp or airship that is capable of flying at altitudes of up to 45,000 feet and would store inventory that is delivered via drone to customers below. In the patent, Amazon describes a method by which some type of shuttle would fly into the airship’s storage area to deliver inventory, while smaller drones pick up the items needed for customer orders, and then deliver those items to the customer’s home – or maybe even to a seat at a football game.
For example, an attendee at a football game might want to order a meal or a jersey without ever leaving his or her seat. The system Amazon describes would potentially enable customers to receive those orders within minutes – though the idea of drones flying into stadiums is a bit hard to digest.
The core idea seems to be that airborne fulfillment centers could respond to surges in local demand even before they occur, according to the patent filing.
Large gatherings of people for a specific event, such as a concert or a sports game, are one example Amazon highlights as a clear-use case. But Amazon also appears to believe that using airships could reduce the costs of drone delivery in general.
One major problem with drone for ecommerce deliveries is that drones for now and likely some period of years will have pretty limited flying ranges. That means Amazon or others would need to build many, many additional fulfillment centers to get product close enough to customers to make drone delivery practical.
But what if the inventory could fly in an airship to get within done delivery range? That is thinking behind Amazon’s airborne fulfillment center concept.
Additional inventory would be added to the AFC through an aerial logistics shuttle that would carry products to the airship. When an order is placed, a drone would be loaded with the desired products and descend from the airship. to deliver the items to the customer.
Since the drones that Amazon is testing can’t get up to heights anywhere near as high as 45,000 feet on their own, Amazon said in its filing that drones will fly back to a ground installation after delivering the order, where they’ll be placed in a shuttle and brought back to the AFC. The drones apparently can descend from those lofty heights by gliding down with little use of energy.
The airborne fulfillment centers concept is roughly illustrated in the graphic below from the Amazon patent filing:
The Amazon filing noted that “The use of an AFC and shuttles also provides another benefit in that the AFC can remain airborne for extended periods of time. In addition, because the AFC is airborne, it is not limited to a fixed location like a traditional ground based materials handling facility. In contrast, it can navigate to different areas depending on a variety of factors, such as weather, expected demand, and/or actual demand.”
The Mercedes Delivery Van of the Future
Another take on the mobile warehouse is a concept from Mercedes it calls the Vision Van.
The German car and truck maker claims that the all-electric van can help boost the efficiency of delivery in urban areas by up to 50%.
The Vision Van comes complete with a fully automated cargo loading system and the ability to deploy delivery drones and self-driving robots to get parcels to customer doors quickly.
These new systems will allow delivery drivers to dispatch multiple packages at once, increasing efficiency, especially in urban environments.
The maximum load weight on the drones will be up to 2 kilograms, which Mercedes says would cover around 85% of all Amazon delivery parcels.
These drones will also deliver their payloads to distances of up to 20 kilometers at speeds of up to 60 kilometers per hour, at heights of between 50 and 200 meters.
Pictures of the Mercedes concept are shown below:
The Mercedes Vision Van Features Fully Automated Loading and Package Retrieval
The Vision Van Would Send Drones for Local Delivery from Top of the Truck
Mercedes is attempting to transform itself from a vehicle manufacturer into a system solution provider offering integrated and intelligent systems in addition to its basic vehicles in the future, through digitalization, automation and robotics.