UPS just successfully launched a delivery drone off of a truck and dropped a package off at a rural residence.
The delivery giant conducted the test in Lithia, Florida, using a battery-electric truck and HorseFly drone built by Ohio-based Workhorse Group. The drone autonomously delivered the package to a home and then returned to the vehicle while the driver continued along its route to make a separate delivery.
“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,” says Mark Wallace, UPS senior VP of global engineering and sustainability. “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.”
According to UPS, a reduction of just one mile per driver per day over one year can save the company up to $50 million as UPS has about 66,000 delivery drivers on the road each day. Rural delivery routes are the most expensive to serve due to the time and vehicle expenses required to complete each delivery. UPS envisions a fleet of drones using its On-Road Integrated Optimization Navigation (ORION) routing software in the future.
In the test, the HorseFly octocopter docks on the roof of the delivery truck with a cage suspended beneath the drone extending through a hatch into the truck. The driver loads the package into the cage and presses a button on a touchscreen. This sends the drone on a preset autonomous route to an address. The drone then recharges while it is docked. The drone can carry up to 10 pounds and has a flight time of 30 minutes.
Because the drone is autonomous and is preset with routes for delivery, a driver is free to make other deliveries while the drone carries a separate package to another location.
UPS says it has been testing drone delivery systems for years and in September of last year tested the mock delivery of emergency medicine from Beverly, Massachusetts, to an island three miles off the Atlantic coast. UPS is also using drones for humanitarian relief and to check inventory on high storage shelves in its warehouses.