Walmart joins Amazon in proposing flying blimp warehouses to speed deliveries.
It only sounds like science fiction.
When Walmart applied for a patent for a flying blimp warehouse to speed “last mile” deliveries, it was actually playing catch up with online archrival Amazon.
As reported by Bloomberg, Walmart filed a patent entitled “Gas-filled carrier aircrafts and methods of dispersing unmanned aircraft systems in delivering products.” According to the patent, the floating blimp would be operated remotely by a human pilot while flying at between 500 to 1,000 feet off the ground. A fleet of drones would then be used to collect and deliver items stored on board to destinations in the vicinity of the blimp.
By having a floating warehouse, Walmart could remove the expensive last mile deliveries from its network. Instead, the blimps would be deployed fully stocked with products which are then delivered by drones before the blimp returns to a base station to be restocked and refueled. There would be no traffic to deal with – until the skies become crowded with blimps and swarms of drones – and the area served by one blimp could cover dozens of delivery trucks on the ground.
In its patent application filed two years ago, Amazon proposed a blimp warehouse traveling at heights up to 45,000 feet. Delivery drones would save on fuel, as they would glide to their destination with gravity on their side. The blimp, said Amazon, could also hover over events such as football games so as to deliver food, drinks and souvenirs. Mobile warehouses could cover a wider distribution area compared with old-fashioned fixed warehouses that can fill orders only within a fixed driving distance. The airship could fly to one town and release a flock of drones to deliver packages, after which the drones would return to the vessel and restock while it flew to the next destination, bypassing congested roadways.
Walmart’s patent application was filed in August, but has yet to be approved. Walmart has also filed a patent for in-store drones to ferry products from the backroom to the sales floor. Amazon’s blimp concept won approval from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in April, 2016.
So when it comes to last mile delivery options, things are definitely looking up.