A newly published patent from Amazon has outlined a new method of launching objects into the air using a miles-long whip attached to a fleet of aerial craft. The patent, which was spotted by GeekWire, was filed back in March 2017 but only became public earlier this week. It muses that the method could offer an energy-efficient way of launching a payload, potentially sending it into low Earth orbit.
It’s a pretty wild idea. Amazon’s patent shows the whip attached to a marine vehicle (read: a boat) via a winch at one end and an “aerial vehicle” carrying the payload on another. Along the whip is a series of additional aerial vehicles that help generate the whip waveform and could also draw power via the whip itself.
While it’s amusing to think of Amazon one day using this method to whip individual packages onto porches around the world, the patent’s description and images suggest that its inventor has payloads like satellites in mind. It could make a good fit for Amazon’s plans to use a network of satellites to offer internet around the world, similar to SpaceX’s Starlink plans. Launching that many satellites is expensive, though. SpaceX tries to reduce the costs of its launches by reusing parts of its rockets. Maybe Amazon’s equivalent could be a huge whip?
In a statement given to GeekWire, a spokesperson from Amazon said that patents like these “do not necessarily reflect [its] current product roadmap.” It added, “Like many companies, we file a number of forward-looking patent applications that explore the full possibilities of new technology.”
Indeed, Amazon has filed plenty of patents in the past that have so far failed to come to anything: there was its floating airship warehouse in 2016, its delivery drone beehives in 2017, and a drone that responds when you shout at it in 2018. At this point, we wouldn’t expect its giant whip to be any different.