UPS tests truck borne delivery drone

UPS reports the successful test of a delivery drone that launched from the top of a UPS package delivery car and autonomously delivered packages. The test was done in Florida on Monday with the drone manufacturer Workhorse.

“This test is different than anything we’ve done with drones so far. It has implications for future deliveries, especially in rural locations where our package cars often have to travel miles to make a single delivery,” said Mark Wallace, UPS senior vice president of global engineering and sustainability.

“Imagine a triangular delivery route where the stops are miles apart by road. Sending a drone from a package car to make just one of those deliveries can reduce costly miles driven. This is a big step toward bolstering efficiency in our network and reducing our emissions at the same time.”

The drone used was the Workhorse Horsefly UAV Delivery System. This is an octocopter delivery drone that is fully integrated with the Workhorse line of electric and hybrid delivery vehicles. This system uses a drone that docks on the roof of a delivery truck. A cage suspended beneath the drone drops through a hatch into the truck and a UPS driver inside loads a package into the cage and presses a button on a touch screen. The drone then flies a pre-planned route to the address. While docked the HorseFly drone recharges on the truck, and has a 30 minute flight time. It has a weight limit of 10lbs.

For this test, Workhorse preset the route for the drone. But in the future, routes could be determined by UPS’s On-Road Integrated Optimization and Navigation (ORION), which is the company’s proprietary routing software.

“It’s wonderful to see this technology applied in such a practical way,” said Stephen Burns, Workhorse founder and CEO. “The drone is fully autonomous. It doesn’t require a pilot. So the delivery driver is free to make other deliveries while the drone is away.”

UPS has been testing automation and robotics technologies, including drones, for years. Last September, UPS staged a mock delivery of urgently needed medicine from Beverly, Mass. to an island three miles off the Atlantic coast.

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