UPS tests drone from the top of a package car

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UPS has tested a drone that launches from the top of a package car, which autonomously delivers a package to a home and returns to the vehicle while the delivery driver continues along the route to make a separate delivery.

The integrator conducted the test on Monday in Florida with Workhorse Group, an Ohio-based battery-electric truck and drone developer. Workhorse built the drone and the electric UPS package car used in the test.

UPS senior vice president of global engineering and sustainability, Mark Wallace says: “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.

“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.”

UPS Florida Drone 3

UPS notes that with its on-road integrated optimisation navigation (ORION) routing software, a reduction of just one mile per driver per day over one year can save UPS up to $50 million. UPS has about 66,000 delivery drivers on the road each day. Rural delivery routes are the most expensive due to the time and vehicle expenses to complete each delivery.

In this test, the drone made one delivery while the driver continued down the road to make another. This is a possible role UPS envisions for drones in the future.

“Drivers are the face of our company, and that won’t change,” Wallace 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 drone used in Monday’s test was the Workhorse HorseFly UAV Delivery system. The drone docks on the roof of the delivery truck. A cage suspended beneath the drone, extends through a hatch into the truck.

UPS Florida Drone 5

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 ORION, which is the company’s proprietary routing software.

UPS is using drones extensively for humanitarian relief, partnering with third-party organizations to deliver life-saving blood and vaccines to hard-to-reach locations in Rwanda. UPS also is utilizing drones to check inventory on high storage shelves in its warehouses.