UPS launches drone from delivery van

Workhorse’s Horsefly can carry 4.5kg packages to vans autonomously

UPS launches drone from delivery van
The Horsefly at work


UPS has successfully tested a US drone that launches from the top of one of its distinctive large delivery vans, the global express parcel company says.

Its drone system autonomously delivers a package to a home and then returns to the ‘UPS package car’ while the delivery driver continues along the route to make a separate delivery.

The system was tested in Florida in conjunction with Workhorse Group, a battery-electric truck and drone developer. Workhorse built the drone and the electric package car used in the test.

"This test is different than anything we’ve done with drones so far," UPS senior vice president of global engineering and sustainability Mark Wallace says.

"It has implications for future deliveries, especially in rural locations where our package cars often have to travel miles to make a single delivery.

"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."

Wallace explains his company is not doing away with drivers.

"Drivers are the face of our company, and that won’t change," he says.

"What’s exciting is the potential for drones to aid drivers at various points along their routes, helping them save time and deliver on increasing customer service needs that stem from the growth of e-commerce."

The firms explain that drone project used the Workhorse HorseFly UAV Delivery system, a high-efficiency, octocopter delivery drone fully integrated with Workhorse’s line of electric/hybrid delivery trucks.

The drone docks on the roof of the delivery truck.

A cage suspended beneath the drone, extends through a hatch into the truck.

A UPS driver inside loads a package into the cage and presses a button on a touch screen, sending the drone on a preset autonomous route to an address.

The battery-powered HorseFly drone recharges while it’s docked. It has a 30-minute flight time and can carry a package weighing up to 10 pounds.

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," Workhorse founder and CEO Stephen Burns says.

"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."

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