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One of the main challenges facing the mass rollout of drone delivery services is the problem of the last mile. Or, to be more specific, the problem of the last 30 yards. How are packages going to be dropped off in a way that ensures that pets, children and others with bad intentions can’t interfere?

Amazon’s drone hijack concerns

These are questions that Amazon will have to answer before any mass rollout of its drone delivery ambitions. The online retailer has successfully filed a patent that seeks to address that problem. Titled, ‘Hostile takeover avoidance of unmanned vehicles’, the patent describes a drone system that relies on a ‘heartbeat’ signal.

“As the use of [unmanned aerial vehicles] continues to increase, so does the likelihood of hostility towards UAVs. Such hostility may come in the form of attacks brought for any number of purposes (e.g., steal the UAVs and their payloads, crash the UAVs, and otherwise cause disruption to the operation of the UAVs),” the patent states.

“Using these attacks, nefarious individuals and/or systems may be able to obtain control of the UAVs by hacking the communication signals being sent to the UAVs from a controller and/or being sent by the UAV to the controller. Such attacks could cause the UAVs to operate unsafely and could also result in considerable financial loss for their operators.”

Giving a drone a heartbeat

The drone’s heartbeat is transmitted every few seconds. If the signal stops— which would happen in the event of damage or a hjack— Amazon’s drone will switch modes from standard “mission” to “safety”. Once in safety mode, the drone will perform pre-programmed manoeuvres to re-establish communication with the central hub, attempt to regain control and land safely. It could also set off an alarm to deter any wrongdoers.

The system would likely work alongside specialised delivery infrastructure to keep parcels secure – something close to a drone mailbox has also been explored by the company.

It’s yet another interesting pattern from Amazon. You can read more about some of the company’s drone-related patents here:

Malek Murison is a freelance writer and editor with a passion for tech trends and innovation. He handles product reviews, major releases and keeps an eye on the enthusiast market for DroneLife.
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Twitter:@malekmurison