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Using UAVs for delivery and other tasks often involves service disruptions due to unsuitable weather conditions, equipment malfunctions etc. Amazon received a patent outlining a possible plan for “directed fragmentation for unmanned airborne vehicles” used in deliveries.

Core to the technology is a “fragmentation sequence” that the drone constantly updates with an eye to flight path, flying conditions, and what lies in the terrain below. “Terrain topology information or data can identify certain preferred locations for dropping one or more of the components of the UAV,” the patent document says, according to

“For example, the terrain topology information can identify bodies of water, forested areas, open fields, and other locations more suitable for dropping components of the UAV if or when flight operation errors, malfunctions, or unexpected conditions occur. “Terrain topology data can identify the locations and boundaries of residential, commercial, and industrial buildings and developments, highways and surface streets, parking lots, stadiums, schools, recreational areas, and other artificial features.”

There are various causes to a situation where the drone would have to dismantle, including “unexpected heat, cold, wind, rain, hail, high or low … pressure regions, or other meteorological conditions,” according to the patent document.

“High winds may make it difficult or impossible to control the flight operations. High heat may also result in failure or malfunction of the battery … leading to loss of thrust provided by the rotor system. Other components … such as the rotor system, flight control computer, flight sensors, or other components, can unexpectedly malfunction or fail for various reasons.”

The idea behind the patent is not to let the drone dismantle itself till there’s nothing left. “During the fragmentation sequence, one or more parts or components of the UAV can be released. In doing so, the weight, speed, air drag coefficient, and other factors related to the UAV can be altered. At the same time, the momentum and trajectory of the UAV are also altered.

The drone’s systems would allow it to control where the falling parts fall, so they would “descend in a calculated or estimated trajectory to the preferred locations.” Parts could be released using latches, hooks or springs, or “small explosive charges” or compressed gas.

There’s attention to cost, among other factors, in what gets jettisoned.

It is not guaranteed that the patent would lead to the development of an actual system, still, the company’s recognition of the possibility of such drone failure indicates that some solution is needed before the company starts delivering goods via drones.