Autonomous cars are the next big thing in tech, with Apple and Google once considered to be working on their own cars. Now it seems that there’s another big name in the race (if Apple and Google are even still in). A patent filing suggests that Amazon may be working on a self-driving car of its own, and if not a car, possibly a delivery truck, as it already uses trucks to move items among its warehouses.
Amazon secures a patent for autonomous car tech
This particular patent isn’t actually for a car, although it would make sense for the online retailer to build a car to go with this technology. In a way though, this is for something much bigger than a car that consumers could choose to buy or not to buy. It’s for infrastructure—the very foundation of what every vehicle needs.
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The patent is for a roadway system that keeps autonomous vehicles from slamming into each other and helps them navigate reversible lanes. Amazon filed the patent in November 2015 and was awarded the patent this week. It deals with how self-driving cars communicate with road management systems and share information on lane direction with autonomous vehicles. The roadway system is described as being applicable to all types of vehicles.
How Amazon’s technology would work
Amazon’s patent pertains to reversible lanes and how autonomous vehicles navigate them, which is important because self-driving vehicles are not yet sophisticated enough to handle this. Reversible lanes use a signal overhead to indicate that traffic is reversing direction. Amazon’s patent describes a roadway network that’s able to communicate with autonomous vehicles, enabling them to adjust for the reversal in the flow of traffic.
The tech community has widely picked up this patent story and interpreted it as meaning that Amazon is working on its own self-driving car. While that might be the case, infrastructure is probably the more likely scenario. The online retailer has shown a great deal of interest in having its own warehouse, logistics and delivery infrastructure set up. It purchased its own delivery trucks last month, and self-driving trucks would save money, although at the expense of jobs (Who’s going to buy goods on Amazon when no one has a job?). Also the company has been experimenting with drone deliveries and patented a flying warehouse.
Looking further out, selling an infrastructure system to state and city highway departments would bank the company much bigger cash than autonomous vehicles would.