UPS Testing Residential Drone Deliveries Launched From Trucks

Lynne Hanson
February 22, 2017

The drones come from the Workhorse Group, an Ohio-based electric truck and drone developer.

To accomplish this mission, UPS used a Workhorse HorseFly UAV Delivery system in their first truck-launched drone delivery. The technology still needs fine tuning as UPS is aiming to use drones to deliver packages and then return back to delivery van even as the van moves in the region for other deliveries. It's able to carry a package up to 10-pounds heavy, and recharges its battery whenever it's docked. The company is hoping this is the first step towards more automated delivery. Deliveries made in rural areas are considered the most expensive delivery routes. And delivery companies around the world are trying to reduce the cost of last-mile trips with drones.

"UPS is never looking to replace our UPS drivers", he said, calling them "the face of our company".

Before the test, UPS tried out drone tests in its warehouses, while also testing out the technology for other purposes.

To be clear, we're not now facing a UPS drone invasion with many multiples of autonomous flying machines attacking the USA. In the future, the drone system could be optimized to work with UPS's ORION navigation system instead of the system from Workhorse. The drone docks on the roof of the delivery truck. Drone deliveries would allow drivers to avoid driving up to individual drop-off points, thus reducing miles driven.

Stephen Burns, Workhorse founder and chief executive officer, said it was "wonderful to see this technology applied in such a practical way". It doesn't require a pilot. In September it stated a mock delivery from Beverly, an island off the Atlantic coast, over open water.

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A year ago the company partnered with robotics manufacturer Zipline and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, to set up a drone delivery system in Rwanda.

UPS' second drone mission comes as Amazon (AMZN, Tech30) invests heavily in building its own delivery network, including drones capable of dropping packages in customers' backyards.

The company also now uses drones to check inventory on high storage shelves in its warehouses, which is already legal to do.

Unlike all of the previous tests, the most recent UPS drone test shows how drones might assist in making non-urgent residential deliveries as part of the day-to-day operation. Federal Aviation Administration issued rules that allow for some commercial use of drones and expanded future applications. UPS was one of 35 selected from a cross section of key stakeholders to serve on the FAA's drone advisory committee.

Creating more efficient deliveries was a primary goal of the UPS test.

For this test, UPS launched the vehicle from the roof of a truck about a quarter mile away to a blueberry farm. Workhorse trucks have historically been sold to the largest fleets in the US and Canada for last-mile delivery and related uses.

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