Amazon patents a plan to have packages ride public buses for customer pickup

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Bus compartments
A schematic shows how an array of storage compartments might fit on a bus. (Amazon Illustration via USPTO)

Amazon’s inventors have suggested using drone-dispensing trucks, rail cars and airships to deliver packages, but one of the company’s latest patents lays out a more mundane route for future customers: picking up their purchases from public buses.

The patent for a mobile package pickup system was published on Tuesday, almost five years after inventor Kushal Mukesh Bhatt’s patent application was filed. Ironically, Bhatt now works for Walmart, one of Amazon’s biggest retail competitors.

As described in the patent, the system calls for installing storage compartments on buses or other vehicles, and letting riders with the authorized codes unlock a designated compartment and pick up their item. Customers can specify the time and the place for the pickup when they put in their online order.

“A user may choose to have items delivered to a mobile pickup location on a public bus which the user takes every day travelling from the office to home, or which stops at a bus stop that is convenient for the user,” Bhatt explained in the application. “Also, in regions where carriers for delivering items are rare or prohibitively expensive, a mobile pickup location may be utilized to deliver items, such as to a rural village.”

Ordering via bus
Amazon’s patent application suggests how customers could choose a bus stop for picking up their packages when they place an order. (Amazon Illustration via USPTO)

Amazon already has installed a network of storage lockers at thousands of locations, but the patent application notes that “some customers may not live or work near pickup locations, or may otherwise not want to take the time to travel to one.”

The company’s inventors are working out other means to get packages to people. For example, today’s list of patent applications from Amazon includes several amended filings related to a method by which customers can grant remote access to delivery agents who show up at their door while they’re away.

That method is already being put into practice through enhancements to the Amazon Key delivery service. The service was criticized in some quarters when it was first offered, largely because customers couldn’t get comfortable with giving Amazon’s agents access to their premises.

The enhancements, unveiled this month, let customers grant access via a smartphone app that connects to WiFi-enabled locks and garage-door openers.

Just because Amazon wins a patent doesn’t mean that the invention will actually see the light of day, and the company generally doesn’t comment on its patented technologies until they’re turned into a product or service. But if Amazon decides to go ahead with having its shipments ride public transit, that could turn into a source of licensing revenue for hard-pressed transit agencies.



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