Technology giant IBM has been granted a patent for a mid-air package transfer technology that could extend the range of drone deliveries.

Drones are starting to be used to transport packages to customer locations, but there are still numerous challenges to this delivery method such as: limited flight range, theft of unattended packages once delivered and a lack of delivery network optimisation.

The goal of IBM's invention, described in U.S. patent number 9,561,852 "In flight transfer of packages between aerial drones," is to help mitigate such challenges by providing in-flight drone-to-drone package transfers to extend drone delivery networks and allow packages to travel further.

IBM_drone-patent (cr) Figure 1: Drawing of IBM patent, which could extend drone delivery range for shipping. (Source: IBM)

For example, a customer expecting a package could dispatch a personal drone to receive and securely deliver the package to the customer’s home. Drone delivery network optimisation could be provided to autonomous drones via the communications link described in the patent.

“Drones have the potential to change the way businesses operate and by leveraging machine learning, drones could change ecommerce,” said Sarbajit Rakshit, IBM Master Inventor and co-inventor on the patent. “Our inventor team is focused on improving how the most valuable cargo is delivered globally. This could create opportunities such as managing drones to deliver postal packages and medicine in developing countries via the most direct route.”