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is expected to continue its rapid growth into opening
more facilities in 2017.
To speed up its warehouse operations, Amazon has an
estimated 45,000 robotic devices in operation, about triple the number reported at the end of 2014. And within
its centers, Amazon is using innovation, automation and
robots to process and deliver products faster.
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said three years ago his new
Prime Air Service hoped to eventually deliver packages
via unmanned “Octocopter” drones within 30 minutes.
The drones fly themselves using GPS coordinates and can
carry packages up to five pounds, which covers 86 percent
of the items that Amazon delivers. Although the concept
seemed far-fetched at the time, it is now closer to reality.
Amazon made its first commercial drone delivery in
December to a shopper in Cambridgeshire, England. The
delivery took 13 minutes across two miles. Amazon is now
testing the concept with two other customers in England.
And two months ago, ID reported that Amazon received a patent for one of its most unusual ideas — a “
flying warehouses” concept. The patent is for an “airborne
fulfillment center” such as an airship or blimp that would
float at an altitude of around 45,000 feet and glide down
rather than having to take off and land.
Amazon’s filing also revealed several uses for the flying
warehouse. One example is at a football game where customers may want certain items such as food or merchandise. The airship could also be used as a giant advertising
board, allowing customers to order the items on display.
Of course, getting a patent does not mean they will
produce the flying warehouse but it gives an indication
that the Seattle-based retailer is not content to sit idly by
and is constantly looking for new ideas.
Geek Wire recently reported that the e-commerce
giant has patented a system for delivering goods with
a network of underground tunnels. Amazon’s 33-page
patent application outlines how a dedicated network of
tunnels could use conveyor belts, rails or pneumatic tubes
to transport packages.
Amazon is also growing in other areas that will impact
electrical and construction distributors as it expands its
reach into the use of wind farms. The company is establishing the Amazon Wind Farm U.S. East, operated by
Iberdrola Renewables at Desert Wind, the first utility-scale
wind farm in North Carolina. The first phase, a 208 megawatt (MW) project, will feature 104 wind turbines. The
facility, if fully built out, could deploy 150 wind turbines
that would generate 300 MW of power at full capacity.
The project will create hundreds of construction jobs.
Amazon has signed up for an 80MW solar farm in Virginia, where its data centers are at the moment getting
half their power from the local utility, Dominion Power.
The North Carolina wind farm follows the announcement
of a 150 MW wind farm in Benton County, IN.
Amazon Web Services also said it would construct five
new solar farms in Virginia with a total capacity of 120
MW. Currently, roughly 25 percent of the power used by
Amazon data centers is from clean or renewable energy
sources. In late 2014, Amazon made a public commitment
to eventually be 100 percent renewable, and projected
last year that it would reach 40 percent of that goal by
the end of 2016 and 50 percent by the end of this year.
Jack Keough is contributing editor of Industrial
Distribution. You can reach him at john.keough@