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Amazon Gets Patent on Drone to Charge Electric Vehicles

Earlier this month, Amazon.com Inc. (NASDAQ: AMZN) was granted a U.S. patent for an “uncrewed autonomous device,” more commonly called a drone, to transfer a charge to a moving electric vehicle. Whether or not Amazon ever chooses to develop such a device remains to be seen, but if any other firm decides to try the same thing, it will have to go through Amazon to get there.

This is a clever solution to the “range anxiety” problem that tempers buyers’ enthusiasm for electric vehicles. There’s a certain level of added comfort knowing you can call for fill-up remotely.

Here’s how it works. The drone charger and the vehicle communicate with a server that knows the position of each and can direct the drone to the proper vehicle. Once the drone finds the right vehicle, both vehicles authenticate themselves to the server and to each other. Finally, the drone connects to the vehicle through a docking mechanism, transfers the energy, and then disconnects and returns to its home base.

In a drawing included with the patent application, Amazon illustrates the docking mechanism carried by the drone and the one that sits on top of a car’s roof. Here’s what the drone looks like.

Source: U.S. Patent and Trademark Office

And here’s what the docking mechanism on top of the car looks like. We’re not sure what the tree is for.

Source: U.S. Patent and Trademark Office

The devil in this idea will certainly be in the details. Like, how long it takes to charge an electric vehicle’s battery. Currently even a fast charger takes about half an hour fully to charge a battery. Another issue is how much juice the drone’s battery could hold. Would it even be worth doing routinely or is it just an emergency solution?

Plenty of questions, but answering them was not the point of the patent application. The point was to stop any other person or company. Amazon first applied for this patent in June of 2014.