Invalidating Amazon's Drone Mapping Patent


Invalidating Amazon's Drone Mapping Patent


In May 2015 Chris Anderson posted a news item about Amazon's drone based delivery system patent which got some attention but most people missed a crucial claim in it:

2. The system of claim 1, wherein the unmanned aerial vehicle is further configured to: receive environment information from a second unmanned aerial vehicle; and develop the navigation route from the source location to the destination location based at least in part on the delivery parameters and the environment information. 

This means that Amazon now holds a patent on a SLAM mapping drone (or any non specialised drone) updating a model of an environment in real time which another drone can use to navigate within that environment.  If the patent is applied broadly this could mean the following scenarios could infringe upon it:

1. If a drone crashes into an object not in an environment model, and sends a crash report to the central/shared model, updating the model with the location of the object could infringe the patent.

2.  If a drone senses/sees a fire, and a second drone is dispatched to the fire to deliver firefighting gear/equipment/suppressants, the system could infringe the patents.

3.  If a drone receives a call for first aid/defibrillator but is not rated to carry a load that heavy, so calls a second (heavier load) drone to pick up and deliver the lifesaving equipment, it could infringe the patent.

I believe this is huge problem going forward and should be a concern for all hobbyists and professionals working on mapping, SLAM drones and swarming.

As I've mentioned before, I believe some of the work I did with the Physical Package Protocol invalidates most of the claims in the patent (though I could be wrong), but I don't have the money/knowledge/skills/lawyers to challenge Amazon.  On the other hand, if anyone in the future has the resources and wants to free up the field from the threat of this patent, I'll be more than happy to provide proof of prior art, etc.



Smart Case and Smart Coop Interactions

Some research findings into how the Pigeon Post System Smart Case and Smart Coop could interact. 

Working with the Lego and magnet set up I have realised I need to redesign the smart case top/bottom to be square as the rectangle cross section adds the unneeded complication of orientation.

So next steps:

  • Redesign Smart Case Top.
  • 3D print a set of of Smart Cases and start testing for real!


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Introducing Pigeon Post to Bootstrap Business Club Manchester

On Tuesday evening I headed over to TechHub Manchester to give a short talk about the basic ideas and concepts of the Internet Protocol like system which underlies Pigeon Post.  I took my camera and recorded the 12 min talk and most of the following Q and A session.  Enjoy!

So the presentation went very well and I had some great discussions afterwards.   Here's a couple of tweets I got about the talk:

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Smart Case Version 0.2.1

Following on from the Tacocopter post I thought I'd update you on the Pigeon Post Smart Case design.
So I received some feedback from the last version (V 0.1.4) and have added it to my own thoughts. The improvements fall into 3 main areas:
1. Make it omnidirectional. Basically the gripper on the UAV needs to be able to grip the top plate from any direction on the horizontal plane. The base also needs to have a gripper so the case can be lifted easily if the case is upside down.
2. Add guides. There needs to be physical aspects of the Case to guide the case into the Coop and the Quadcopter gripper onto the top centre of the Case. Although these may be limited seeing that any sloping part can only be 10mm deep, the more the better.
3. Remove all moving parts. The swinging up T bar of Version 0.1.4 was a huge point of failure and needs to be replaced with a single solid part.
Incorporating these changes actually made the Smart Case much easier to standardise, easier to manufacture and lighter. I've actually redesigned it from the base plate up so have changed the version number to 0.2.1.
Here's an overview of the design:
For ease of storage this version can be manufactured to fold flat and stack on top of each other. The most compact way is to make a case which can compact down into the 1cm base and top plates and stacked on top of each other. This means that 15 compacted cases can be stored in the space of standard case.
You can download the model here: Download Smart Case V 0.2.1
And a the model I used for the Gif above: Download Smart Case V 0.2.1 Display
I'll also put the design in the Google SketchUp library and post some photos of the 3D printed version as soon as I receive it.



3D Printable SketchUp Smart Case Version 0.1.4

I'm releasing Version 0.1.4 of the standard size Pigeon Post Smart Case. This is the version we'll be using to develope the different clamps/hooks/arms which the multi copters can use to pick the cases up.



The top plate and base can be placed next to each other to be printed and the sides of the case can be made very easily with card or thin plastic sheets.

In the new year want to use this or the next version in the competitions and challenges Pigeon Post will be running in the new year to test out some of the basic elements of the system. Here's some more images from Sketch Up:



Two Encouraging Videos

I've got two videos which I find both inspiring and encouraging so take a look!

The first shows that an autonoms hexcopter can do a very stable GPS Hold, meaning the hex using just GPS can stay in a fixed position in space.  The hex then returns to "Home" (in this case it is marked by a mushroom) and lands within a couple of meters, still only using GPS.

Now take a look at this video which shows just how quick, manovoreable and nimble one of these machines can be!  This area of technical developement is progessing so quickly it blows my mind on a weekly basis.

mwc quad // mt2208 motor from warthox on Vimeo.


Tip of the hat to the DIY Drones blog for these two.



Like Water Off A Duck's (or Pigeon's) Back!

Another one of the criticisms of the Pigeon Post I've heard multiple times is the problem of rain and other adverse weather will have on the electronic systems and on the Smart Cases.  

Now I'm not an materials expert or an electrical engineer but looking at this product demo video, I think I might have just found a solution.  Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you NeverWet:

One question I have about this super-hydrophobic wonder spray is how easy is it to remove?  Is there a anti-superhydrophobic cleaning solution?  

So who will be the first to use this stuff on their UAV and test it out in the rain?



Standard Smart Case Version 0.1.2 Released

Smart Case Version 0.1.2 Released

So I've finished sketching up the standard size Smart Case dimensions.  The storage capacity of this designe is 4.5 litres (10cmx15cmx30cm) and can carry all trifold and all but the most rigid A5 letters.  It can also carry 5 DVD cases, a mobile phone in a case, a new light bulb and 1000s of other small items.

Here's a preview of the design though it is lacking some labels:



You can also download the full size PNG Version and a PDF Version.

I'm looking for this to be turned into a 3D file and get it printede up so I can test it in the real world and use the file in some animations I have planned.



ESP, Psychics and Pigeon Post.

I love the chapter in Robert Silverburg's Dying Inside is where the main character, Selig, who actually is psychic has a class at school where ESP is discussed. The teacher has the whole class try to read her mind as she looks at a set of Zener Cards. Of course she is just using the exercise to teach the class about statistics (4 out of 20 would be average) but poor Selig is so paranoid about anyone finding out his true abilities he purposefully gets every card wrong! Hes is almost rumbled as the chances of getting all 20 cards wrong was even lower than getting 6 or 7 cards right. Standard Zener Card Set

So why am I talking about random science fiction again? Well the reason Zener Cards are used by "psychics" each shape is very distinctive from the others and this is the aspect which we'll put to use in the Pigeon Post system.

Pigeons should fly at a minimum height to avoid structures and trees until they reach the target destination. This could be a little out as GPS has a 10m margin of error so the Pigeon will hover over a destination point and "look" down. As each element of the physical system has a reflective or glowing Zener shape on the top surface the Pigeon should recognise what it is hovering above as it lowers down. When it gets within a couple of metres it will be close enough to ping the RFID tag. If it is unable to connect with the RFID it can lower further, grip the connector and read the QR code printed on the top of the Case or Coop.

The triangular shapes can be placed pointing towards each element to help the Pigeon zero in and rotate to the correct angle to grip the connector.



Pigeon Post Weight Limits?

One question I have been asked a number of times now is "How much could a Quadcopter Pigeon carry?"

The simple answer was, until a few days ago, was "a couple of kilograms? Not sure really."  Of course I had already said that the test platforms should lift at least 1kg worth of packages excluding the Smart Case which I estimate will be around 100 grams.  In the future I would have liked to see how far we could push the weight limits before the flight time/distance is cut unreasonably short.

Then I saw this:

Of course that amazing machine is complete over kill for what we are planning with Pigeon Post but it raises the possibility of having Pigeons which can carry tens of kilograms not just four or five which, from all the research I had done, seemed to be the current limit.  So we could have extra large or heavy single cases or a way for a whole rack of smaller cases moved at once.  Again, that would be a some way down the development timetable but should be kept in mind.  (Oh and don't ask me about what happens when a 20kg object falls out of the sky quite yet...)

One change I'm going to make to the PPPV 0.1.2 is to add a weight band byte to the number so Smart Perches can use the weight/distance/elevation to the destination perch to estimate the amount of power any Pigeon it calls will need to make the next jump.  


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Oh Crap! Google To Charge For Maps API Calls.

So it looks like one crucial element in the Pigeon Post set up may have got a little more expensive. The Guardian is reporting that Google will now be charging users who make more than 25000 API calls a day.

The pricing is pretty reasonable and I'm sure the Pigeon Post wont get close to the limit during the delevopment process but when we take off we'll be hitting the API almost constantly.

The solution to this around this would be to:
Simply pass the cost onto the customers.
Find an alternative free mapping service such as the Ordinance Survey in the UK.
Develop a way for the Perches to cache the local data and plot a course from memory.
Something someone more intelligent than me will think off.

We'll have to see...

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Is The Technology Ready?

At the moment, no.  Or not quite yet!

In the 1940's and 50's Isaac Asimov wrote a series of short stories about robots and in the process coined the word robotics then created the The Three Laws of Robotics.  In all the stories the robots were controled by a Positronic Brain which was hardwired with all the program's the robot would ever need.  Why Positronic Brain and not simply "computer?"  Because at that time computers were so large and expensive "that only the five richest kings of Europe would own them" and there was no way to fit them inside a humanoid robot. 


Despite this a handful of designers, engineers and entrepreneurs started developing the sensors, mechanisms, actuators and tools needed to turn robots from fiction into fact.  All they needed was for the computers to become small, powerful and cheep enough. When this happened they were ready to revolutionise production lines around the world. 

We are looking to reproduce this success and change the way packages and letters are delivered and received.  The technology is not quite there, but like the pioneers of the last century, we must be ready to change the world again.