Amazon patent describes anti-hacking measures to protect its delivery drones

It’s scarily easy for people to hijack drones using malicious AI

If Amazon wants to go forward with worldwide drone deliveries for Amazon Prime Air, it needs to ensure that its autonomous hardware – and your packages – don’t get stolen mid-flight. 

Thankfully, a recent US patent shows that Amazon takes these safety concerns seriously. 

It outlines design and software features for “detecting and recovering from hostile takeovers” from “nefarious individuals” hoping to redirect or crash its UAVs. 

Amazon's drone would immediately sense if its connection with its primary controller has gone offline| Credit: USPTO

With this proposed safety system, Amazon drones in flight would receive a “heartbeat” signal from the controller tower to the drone every couple of seconds. If the drone expects but doesn’t receive the next heartbeat, it will immediately transition from mission mode to safety mode. 

Safety mode, which seems kind of like your smartphone’s airplane mode, ensures no outside signals can influence the drone’s behavior, until it either reestablishes direct communication with an Amazon controller or finds somewhere safe to land. 

In fact, as the proposed drones fly, they would use cameras to scan their surroundings, looking for safe places to land in an emergency, such as a vacant lot or mown field. 

Of course, if Amazon has any kind of Wi-Fi or cloud problems that cause its controllers to go offline, then all of its outgoing drones could end up parking in random fields with your packages until Amazon fixes the issue. 

Predicting the final Amazon drone model

Amazon’s engineers have a ton of patented ideas for their drones, some more outlandish than others. But we're getting a clearer idea of which ones could end up actually getting used. 

Confirming another patent found last year, the drone schematics in this patent make room for a parachute for slowing your package’s descent. It didn’t make any mention of the self-destruct function discussed in another patent. Perhaps this new safety system made that idea nonessential. 

The final version of the company’s delivery drones could support facial and gesture recognition for communicating with customers during package delivery. Or, Amazon could choose to rely on dropping parachutes to keep its drones far away from humans and potential accidents. 

Credit: USPTO

Amazon has also patented “drone towers” that look like hives. They could be placed in city centers as a docking and recharge port for its drones. 

These drones could then take off and fly around the city, recharging electric cars—as suggested in another recent patent. Considering Amazon just invested in 100 Mercedes-Benz EV delivery vans, this proposed use could work directly into Amazon’s future schemes. 

Of course, it could turn out that none of these features end up in the finished product; plenty of patents end up unused by Amazon all the time, including its plans to secretly record you to create personalized ads

But out of all of these ideas, making drones hack-proof seems like the most viable idea to pursue further.

Via Digital Trends