A new patent enables Amazon delivery drones to converse with humans. Could Alexa soon be talking to you from the sky?
Amazon’s latest drone patent turns UAVs from passive delivery vehicles into objects that will now be able to talk to you from the sky. On August 29, the US Patent & Trademark Office approved Amazon’s February 2015 filing for “Speech Interaction For Unmanned Aerial Vehicles.”
As Amazon pushes its logistics capabilities ever further, drones have become central to its long-term vision. Recent patents show how the company is thinking about housing and transporting UAVs for deliveries – storing them in beehive-shaped warehouses, blimps, underwater facilities, and the “death star.”
Patents have also revealed that Amazon’s drones will stalk residential residences for data that could later be used for sales purposes – giving Amazon the ability to recommend weed killers after its drones notice your overgrown garden, for example.
While the patent for a talking drone makes no mention of product recommendations or sales data, it describes how a drone could interact by speech with a package recipient. It also describes how a drone “may have one or more wireless network interfaces” for “communicating with a control center and/or with other UAVs.”
The drone could record a package recipient’s responses and relay them back to a customer service center. It could even connect them to a live representative (by audio or video) to reschedule deliveries or answer questions like “When is my next package coming?”
If Amazon’s drones can support speech and communication over “cellular, radio frequency (RF), Wi-Fi, or other suitable long-range wireless connection technologies” (all mentioned in the patent), it’s feasible that the same technological infrastructure could be linked to Alexa Voice Service – as well as to the drone-powered data collection and usage efforts Amazon patented in July 2015. The patent even mentions how a drone could be equipped with voice or facial recognition functions to determine or verify the identity of the individual prior to dropping the package.
In its primary use case, however, the talking drone isn’t Alexa-connected, or sales-oriented. Mainly, it’s a warning call.
The patent, which focuses entirely on package delivery, positions the talking drone invention mainly as a means for ensuring customers’ safety. It specifies that the drones will be able to “detect nearby people, animals, or other interactive objects” and produce speech “to warn or instruct” them.
In addition to harsh directives like “please stay away!” (so rude) an Amazon drone could also converse in a friendly way with the person it detects: Speech input capabilities would allow the drone to “ask the object to move or to ask the object to specify an alternative landing area.”
The logic behind a drone’s interaction with an Amazon customer is fairly straightforward (per figure below). Essentially, it enables customers to communicate with a drone in the same manner as they would with a human package carrier.
The drones carry microphones, loudspeakers, and displays. Natural language processing and speed recognition software allow the drone to understand customers, even relatively vague instructions like “Take the delivery to the back door.”
In addition, the patent notes that sensor systems allow the drone to detect interactive objects.
Ultimately, the addition of speech to Amazon’s drone-delivery efforts may start small, but it could spell a significant opportunity for the internet giant to communicate from the sky – especially if it wants to entrench Alexa (or any product-recommendation efforts) further into our day-to-day lives.
By combining drone conversations with its existing data-collection initiatives, Amazon can bolster its true core strategy: Giving customers what they want, when they want it.