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Amazon hopes to deploy a network of delivery drones as soon as federal regulators approve them, but the e-retail giant reportedly also envisions a future in which its drones could be supplied via massive airborne warehouses.

USA Today reports that Amazon received a patent for an "airborne fulfillment center." The application was submitted to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in 2014 and approved in April, but it was first uncovered last week by CB Insights analyst Zoe Leavitt.

Illustrations in the filing show a warehouse carried by a large airship, which would remain at high altitudes as drones fly back and forth between the warehouse and nearby shipping destinations.

The system could also be deployed at sporting events or other large gatherings to help meet similar demands from thousands of people, or it could transport cargo or even people between Amazon's ground-level distribution centers. At lower altitudes, the airship could also serve as a floating billboard.

Blimps haven't been used to move large numbers of people or cargo for decades, but research last year suggested that advancing airship technology could provide a more cost-effective way to ship massive amounts of cargo over long distances.

This diagram shows an airship-style aerial fulfillment center dropping drones to make deliveries. After each delivery, the drones fly off and are collected for the return trip to the blimp via a replenishment shuttle. (Amazon Illustration via USPTO)
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