Amazon scores patent for installing drone docks on cell towers

Amazon's (NASDAQ: AMZN) newly awarded patent is for a docking station to be installed on cell towers, and light and utility poles, that will allow the drones used in its Prime Air delivery service to recharge.

According to a patent filing found by USA Today, the docking stations will be able to welcome multiple drones at a time and could potentially incorporate solar panels so they don't draw power from sources used by structures like cell towers.

While at the dock, the drone could charge its batteries, download updates or pass off its delivery to another drone.

Of course, if and when Amazon wanted to mount drone docks on cell towers, the company would likely need to contract certified tower workers as well as seek permits from the tower owner, be it a mobile provider or a wireless infrastructure company.

But Amazon may consider offering to provide and install its own street lights and/or wireless towers to house the docking stations as a way to get local governments on board with the plan.

"This can enable cities to provide free Wi-Fi in public parks, buildings and other public areas without bearing the burden of installing some, or all, of the necessary infrastructure," the patent said, according to USA Today.

Drones have been used around cell towers before, albeit in different job functions. Fluke Networks aimed to make tower maintenance safer in its previous efforts to allow drones to be used for tower inspections and data collection. T-Mobile's Netherlands operation also used drones for antenna inspections, allowing tower workers to view tower conditions in real time without having to ascend the structure.

Amazon's drone delivery is still in the testing phase and FAA regulations still present a hurdle to any real world deployment of such a service. But while Amazon considers the use of cell towers as drone depots, AT&T (NYSE: T) is considering the use of drones as aerial cell sites. The company is currently trialing LTE-connected drones that can temporarily boost network coverage and capacity, as well as inspect cell towers.

For more:
- read this USA Today article

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