UPS Testing Residential Drone Deliveries Launched From Trucks

In its current iteration, the autonomous drone launches from the top of a UPS package truck, then delivers a package to a home before returning to the UPS truck while the delivery driver continues along the route to make a separate delivery. A trap door within the ceiling allows the UPS driver to access the drone's bottom-mounted delivery cage, into which they can place a small package. The van then latched onto the drone and docked it on its roof.

These drones could also save drivers gas and time by cutting down on stops, especially in rural areas, where drop-offs are often miles apart. In fact, UPS figures that if it can cut just one mile from the 66,000 routes its drivers cover every day, the company could save upwards of $50 million annually. "This is a big step toward bolstering efficiency in our network and reducing our emissions at the same time". The drone tested on Monday was an octocopter that is fully integrated with the Workhorse line of electric/hybrid delivery trucks. UPS knows because it recently crashed a delivery drone in front of a bunch of reporters.

When it comes to innovation in the delivery space, nobody comes even remotely close to UPS.

Inside the nest is a Workhorse HorseFly autonomous drone with the ability to fly for 30 minutes and carry 10 pounds worth of packages.

UPS is on an FAA stakeholders advisory committee, a group of businesses trying to influence the way the federal government restricts drone use. This Ohio-based manufacturer designed and built both the electric delivery truck, as well as the drone itself.

Drones can help UPS with rural delivery routes that are most expensive to serve because of the time and vehicle expenses needed to complete each delivery. UPS now has one of its executives on the FAA's drone advisory council, an indication of its interest in drones.

UPS has been testing the implications of drones on delivery for years, but the company said this was the first time it has studied how a drone could assist drivers with day-to-day deliveries. Previous experiments saw the company stage a mock delivery of medicine from Beverly, Massachusetts to an island three-miles off the coast. Additionally, 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. This is a possible role UPS sees for drones in the future, the company said.

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

  • Zachary Reyes