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News & Notes

UPS Tests Delivery Via Drone Launched from Delivery Truck

Watch a 360-degree video of the delivery

February 21, 2017

Updated Feb. 22, 2017 to include more specifics from UPS

UPS announced today that on Feb. 20 it conducted a successful drone delivery with a truck-launching drone in Lithia, FL. Eyes were on the drone the entire flight, which UPS says took about three minutes for it to complete the less than a mile round trip delivery.

The company is no stranger to drone tech: it uses UAS to check inventory in its warehouses, staged a mock drone delivery last year, and is partnered with humanitarian drone startup Zipline. It’s also a member of the FAA’s drone advisory committee.

The drone used in this most recent test was the Workhorse HorseFly: a carbon fiber octocopter that can fly for about 30 minutes, carry a package that weighs up to 10 pounds, and reach 50 mph.

“It’s wonderful to see this technology applied in such a practical way,” said Stephen Burns, Workhorse founder and CEO, in a statement. “The drone is fully autonomous. It doesn’t require a pilot. So the delivery driver is free to make other deliveries while the drone is away.”

Pro tip: Click the video and drag for a 360-degree video experience. Seriously, it's awesome!

A cage sits beneath the HorseFly drone, which allows a UPS driver to load a package. Once the package is inside, the delivery driver simply presses a button on a touch screen that directs the drone to fly autonomously to its destination. While Workhorse preset the delivery route for this test, future routes could be input by UPS’s routing software (On-Road Integrated Opitmization and Navigation, also known as ORION).

Now, you might be thinking: “But UPS drivers are going to lose their jobs!” While we can’t make any promises, Mark Wallace, UPS senior vice president of global engineering and sustainability, has some calming words for those worried that drones are going to stop you from seeing your favorite UPS driver.

“Drivers are the face of our company, and that won’t change,” he said in a news release. “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.”
UPS sees drones as a way to help delivery drivers, rather than replace them. UPS
Wallace said this test has implications for future deliveries, especially in remote locations. The most expensive deliveries UPS makes are those to rural areas because of time and vehicle expenses, but drones could help drivers save time making those deliveries.

“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,” he said  in a news release. “This is a big step toward bolstering efficiency in our network and reducing our emissions at the same time.”
Featured image: UPS