The aeroplane enthusiasts at Boeing appear to be thinking about making a move on drone territory, with its developers patenting a system that allows for the automated in-air refuelling of the self-flying deliverybots of the future.
The actual US patent is described as being for "a tether adapted to couple to the aircraft and to a ground-based power supply," with its illustrations showing a scenario where the drone charges itself up from a ship, car or more generic powered base station.
The text of the patent describes numerous situations where this may be implemented, including one where: "...an electrically powered buoyant aircraft comprises an inflatable bladder filled with a gas that is less dense than air, a frame assembly to couple to the inflatable bladder, a control system to maneuver the aircraft, and an interface to couple the aircraft to a tether which provides a connection to a ground-based power supply to provide power to the aircraft while the aircraft is coupled to the tether, wherein the aircraft can disconnect autonomously from the tether in response to a command signal."
All of which may or may not come to pass. What's interesting is that an aero giant like Boeing is thinking about drones and how they may span the world one day, potentially taking the drone out of the hobbyist niche and into the skies en masse. Pending approval. [USPTO via TNW]