Amazon’s patent to turn its delivery drones into home surveillance drones isn’t a new idea: the company filed the patent in 2015. The patent was granted this month, however; the same month that Amazon revealed its new delivery drone technology and the FAA granted the company permissions to test their delivery service: and that’s enough to give some homeowners pause as they wonder exactly what that patent means.
Since Amazon began work on drone delivery – a technology with the potential to impact delivery costs, and dramatically change consumer product distribution models – there have been numerous patents filed, many seeming outlandish. There’s a patent for drones powered by thoughts, a patent to prevent hijacking of delivery drones, a patent to create charging stations on top of street lights, and a giant warehouse blimp, among others. This surveillance patent, however, seems all too realistic in the modern day.
Amazon has a long history of adding deep data gathering to it’s portfolio. Alexa is becoming invaluable to many households, however, it is “always listening”: and so are Amazon employees. But with the surveillance drone patent, homeowners can relax: Amazon may at sometime in the future offer the services to consumers, as a home protection product – not as some sort of big-brother type spy service.
“Some reports have suggested that this technology would spy or gather data on homes without authorization—to be clear, that’s not what the patent says,” said Amazon’s John Tagle to Fortune. “The patent clearly states that it would be an opt-in service available to customers who authorize monitoring of their home.”
As the figure above shows, the technology is designed to look only at specific sites, and maintain the privacy of abutting properties, which bears out that claim. Amazon purchased home security and surveillance product company Ring (formerly DoorBot) last year, which may indicate a synergy in product offerings.
Or, it may mean nothing at all – the four years since the patent was applied for have brought many significant changes to Amazon’s plans for delivery drones. The idea for surveillance may be no more realistic than that patent for a drones hitchhiking on the backs of trucks, the one for the “virtual safety shroud“, or the self-destruct button for drones in trouble.