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Amazon’s Latest Brainstorm: Underwater Product Warehouses

It would have been natural to think that Amazon’s plan to deliver customer orders via drone was the most bizarre idea the company could possibly develop.

That is, until Amazon filed a patent application in April for huge blimps that would serve as home base for its drones in urban areas, or the June announcement that Amazon had filed another patent application for giant “beehives” – huge towers where goods would be stored, and drones could land to pick up orders and then take off to deliver them.
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But those seem pedestrian compared to the company’s latest brainstorm. Amazon has filed patent applications for enormous underwater warehouses, in which products would be called to the surface by an electronic Pied Piper.

The Problem

What happens when you get “too big?” That’s the problem Amazon had in mind when devising its plan for underwater warehouses. Currently, of course, the retail giant uses traditional above-ground facilities to house millions of products. Warehouses of that size pose enormous challenges for efficient storage, and for easy retrieval and transfer after items have been ordered.
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Amazon says in its patent application that its warehouses can cover a million square feet or even more. That means the facilities’ layouts are extremely cumbersome, space isn’t used to best advantage, and humans or robots often have to travel a total of several miles just to collect the products needed to fulfill an order. Naturally, there are also physical limitations to how many shelves of merchandise can be stacked in a warehouse.

The (Possible) Solution

Amazon’s idea for “aquatic fulfillment centers” was developed by the company’s robotics division which has already built the robots widely used in the company’s facilities, and it would theoretically solve those problems.

The underwater warehouses would be built in deep lakes or pools. Parachute-equipped, waterproof canisters containing products would be dropped from aircraft into the water; the buoyancy of each container would be carefully calculated so that it would sink to the desired depth where it would be stored. In theory, the amount of storage available would only be limited by the depth of the water and the circumference of the pool.
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If you buy this so far, you’re probably wondering how the packages are retrieved. No problem. Each container would be coded to respond to a specific series of tones, inflating a balloon mounted on the canister so it floats to the surface for collection. The patent application even identifies a method of generating waves in the water, in order to efficiently move containers to the shore.

Concerned about your Amazon purchases being stored in water? Then you probably don’t want to know that the patent also says that the pools could contain alcohol or kerosene instead of water, if “appropriate.”

There’s no way to know whether the company is seriously considering this specific plan, or if it’s just legally protecting a concept that might generate more realistic ideas for expanding storage capacity and cutting costs. However, the patent application has already done one thing that may have seemed unlikely until recently: by comparison, delivery drones don’t sound so crazy after all.
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