Amazon has been granted a new patent by the United States Patent and Trademark Office for a delivery drone that can respond to human gestures.
The concept is part of Amazon's goal to develop a fleet of unmanned aerial vehicles that can swiftly send packages to customers in 30 minutes or less. Issued earlier this week, the patent may help Amazon grapple with how flying robots might interact with human bystanders and customers waiting on their doorsteps.
Depending on a person's gestures - a welcoming thumbs up, shouting or frantic arm waving - the drone can adjust its behaviour, according to the patent. The machine could release the package it was carrying, alter its flight path to avoid crashing, ask humans a question or abort the delivery, the patent said.
Among several illustrations in the design, a person is shown outside his home, flapping his arms in what Amazon describes as an "unwelcoming manner", to showcase an example of someone shooing away a drone flying overhead. A voice bubble comes out of the man's mouth, depicting possible voice commands to the incoming machine.
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"The human recipient and/or the other humans can communicate with the vehicle using human gestures to aid the vehicle along its path to the delivery location," the patent states.
Another diagram depicts the steps a drone will take when reading human body language as it delivers packages.
According to the patent, the drone's communication system would include an array of sensors, including a depth sensor and cameras to detect visible, infrared and ultraviolight light. The drones would be able to recognise hand and body gestures, human voices and movement, such as a person walking closer to the drone or away from it.
If the drones were cleared to deliver, they could release boxes with extra padding from the air, or they could land and then offer the parcels, the patent said.
Since unveiling its plans to develop an air delivery service, Amazon has applied for several ambitious patents which include the use of giant airships to serve as mobile, flying warehouses, and designs for drones that self-destruct during an emergency.
There's no word on when the gesture-recognition system might debut. Amazon declined to comment. In 2016, the company made its first autonomous drone delivery to a shopper in Britain. A private customer trial for drone delivery in Britain is ongoing.