Amazon has been investigating the possibilities of drone delivery for a while now, and is already conducting a private customer trial in the UK.
But there are many issues that still need to be resolved, and questions that need to be addressed, before drones can be used more widely for everyday deliveries.
For instance, how will customers interact with the drone and will the drone be able to respond?
A new patent issued to the online retailer provides some clues.
Last week, the US Patent and Trademark Office granted Amazon a patent for a delivery drone that can understand and react to human gestures, Geekwire reports.
The document describes an unmanned aerial vehicle that adjusts its behaviour in response to visible or audible gestures (such as people shouting at it, waving their arms, or giving a thumbs-up).
“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.
These gestures are detected by sensors and analysed by an onboard management system, which then determines what action to take and instructs the appropriate subsystem to take the action.
“The identity of the human recipient may be verified in some manner prior to delivery of the package,” Amazon says.
If the drone is cleared to deliver, it can release the package from the air (with extra padding to reduce the impact), or it can fully land and then release the package.
It’s not yet known when Amazon will start using the gesture-recognition system, but the company is committed to the development of drone delivery.
“We’re excited about this technology and one day using it to deliver packages to customers around the world in 30 minutes or less,” the company says.