UPS was able to complete their test run of launching a drone from the top of a UPS delivery van, autonomously delivering a parcel to a house and returning back to the vehicle, all while the van is moving on its way to make another delivery.
UPS, in coordination with Workhorse Group which manufactures battery-powered trucks and drones, conducted an experiment over Lithia, Florida. The drone used in the testing was the Workhorse HorseFly™ UAV Delivery system. The octocopter can fly for 30 minutes, carry packages weighing up to 10lbs, and is fully compatible with their battery-powered trucks.
A docking zone situated on the truck’s roof allows the drone to recharge while a package is loaded into its cage-like carriage which extends inside the truck. The UPS personnel loads the parcel into the cage and inputs the delivery address on a touchscreen panel. The drone records the location, delivers the package, and returns to the truck without the need for human intervention during its flight.
Each day, UPS deploys around 66,000 drivers to do deliveries worldwide. Reducing the distance traveled by each driver by even just a mile a day can already save the company an estimated amount of $50 million.
Deliveries in rural areas are very costly and time-consuming. Trucks have to be driven to far-flung areas just to deliver a single package.
After UPS’s success in testing their delivery drones, trucks can make stops away from smaller roads and just send the drone to make the deliveries instead. This can greatly increase efficiency and coverage while reducing fuel costs and emissions from vehicles.
UPS has been experimenting with drone delivery services for quite some time. They’ve been testing drones for the benefit of humanitarian relief. Last year, they were able to deliver medicine using a drone to an island near Boston. Partnership with third-party NGOs also helped them test their drone’s capability by delivering blood packs and vaccines to hard-to-reach areas in Rwanda.
For the test run, the team entered a preset route for the drone to follow. In the near future, UPS plans to have their drones use the On-Road Integrated Optimization Navigation (ORION), a routing software specially designed to help UPS incorporate drone deliveries in their day-to-day operations.
However, there are rules regulating the use of drones for commercial purposes. It will still take years of experimentation to prove that these unpiloted machines can safely fly over urban areas without causing accidents. For now, complying with FAA rules requires UPS drivers to watch over the whole flight of the drone, making it impractical to use.