Much like the self-driving car has progressed from science fiction toward reality, the idea of using unmanned flying drones to deliver packages by Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) has slowly moved forward. The concept has gone from seeming farfetched, to if not inevitable, at least highly probable. Amazon has steadily advanced the idea, even conducting tests while also working toward addressing potential safety and operational concerns.
The online retailer is not alone in its efforts to both create the technology and legalize drone delivery. Wal-Mart has its own effort, and both Chipotle and Domino's have at least used the unmanned flying vehicles in tests, albeit in a less serious, more gimmicky way.
Amazon, however, has been at the forefront of the drone movement with details of its plans slowly emerging. In February, a patent application revealed that the retailer wanted to equip some drones with parachutes. Now, despite the fact that it's not currently legal to use unmanned flying vehicles for most commercial activities (including nearly all package delivery) in the United States, Amazon has received another patient that sheds light on its plans. It reportedly is considering drones that can speak out loud.
Amazon received a patent for technology that would allow its drones to speak, GeekWire reported. The drones would use either an Alexa-powered artificial intelligence to speak, or a live customer service representative, or perhaps a combination of the two. The company explained how it sees this working in its unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) in the patent.
The UAV is configured to detect the presence of nearby people, animals, or other interactive objects. Upon detecting a nearby object, the UAV may produce speech in order to warn or instruct the object. The UAV may also have speech input capabilities in order to capture and respond to speech from the object. The UAV may conduct a speech dialog with a nearby person in order to request information and/or answer questions from the object.
In addition, the drone/UAV might also communicate in situations like when a landing spot has been compromised by an object in the vehicle's way. In that case, it may use speech to ask for the object to be moved or for someone on the ground to specify a different landing area.
Amazon also said in the patent that its drones may have speech recognition capabilities that allow them to interpret what a person is saying. The company also noted that it may use technology to have the interpretation done remotely by machine or by a human representative. Amazon said it may include two-way video.
What does this mean?
Amazon has been slowly checking off objections to its use of drones. At some point the company will have to go to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to get the rules changed to allow for package delivery via drones. Under the current rules, package delivery is only allowed if the UAV/drone remains within visual line-of-sight of the person operating it.
That's obviously a very limiting scenario, but going forward it seems reasonable to think that Amazon will eventually receive approval, at least on a limited basis. This patent shows that early objections over safety can be addressed through technology.
Of course, that's not to say that drone delivery will be commonplace soon. But just like driverless cars, you can see a progression, along with advancing technology that should eventually make what once seemed absurd a reality.