UPS Tests Drone-Based Package Deliveries

The HorseFly UAV Delivery drone, which was developed by Workhorse, resides in a compartment within the roof of UPS' iconic brown delivery vehicle. With regulatory hurdles likely to hinder the introduction of any drone delivery efforts in urban areas for the foreseeable future, having a drone launch from a truck in rural locations - as opposed to from fixed-location fulfillment centers à la Amazon - seems like a more realistic option for now. The drone sits on top of the package vehicle, and delivers to an address, while the driver of the vehicle continues to make a delivery at another address.

UPS has about 102,000 delivery drivers on the road each day and rural deliveries are the most expensive. In the latest test, the drone made one delivery while the driver made another in the truck.

With UPS's on-road integrated optimization navigation (ORION) routing software, a reduction of one mile per driver per day can save the company up to $50 million over a year.

"We're studying and understanding the opportunities that this will provide for us", said Mark Wallace, UPS senior vice president of global engineering and sustainability.

In the test, the drone was docked on the roof of the delivery truck. The drone has a flight time of thirty minutes when fully charged, and can carry packages up to 4.5 kg in weight. The driver loads the package from inside of the vehicle, and with the touch of a button it automatically delivers the package. TechCrunch reports that the company's second test of the drone failed, with it suspending its own launch, falling over, and almost getting destroyed. The company hopes eventually to have a driver continue to the next stop before a drone completes its mission. The company has also helped delivery medical supplies in Rwanda and uses drones to check inventory in its warehouses. Of course this isn't the first time any drone has been launched from a truck, but it is the first time that a UPS drone has launched from a UPS truck with a delivery. The drone then flies up to the drop off location, releases the package and autonomously returns to the van.

The test provides another small step toward making delivery drones a possibility for mainstream use, helping create faster and cheaper shipping. "It doesn't require a pilot".

The goal of drone deliveries for UPS would be eliminating additional miles driven for single, rural deliveries, which could save money and emissions for UPS. In September it stated a mock delivery from Beverly, an island off the Atlantic coast, over open water.

  • Zachary Reyes