Innovation

UPS tests drone delivery, launching UAV from top of truck

UPS recently tested a new delivery method, using an autonomous drone to deliver packages from one of the famous brown trucks.

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Image: UPS

On Monday, shipping and logistics giant UPS performed its first test of a drone delivery, launching the autonomous copter from the roof of one of its shipping trucks. The drone, made by a company called Workhorse, flew out of a retractable roof on the truck to make the delivery.

The test was conducted in Lithia, Florida, and aimed to incorporate the intricacies of drone delivery into the daily route of a UPS driver, a press release said. Using drone delivery in rural areas, where a single package drop off can mean many miles of additional driving, could have a big impact, Mark Wallace, UPS senior vice president of global engineering and sustainability, said in the release.

"Imagine a triangular delivery route where the stops are miles apart by road," Wallace said in the release. "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."

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According to the release, reducing each driver's route by a single mile per day could save the company up to $50 million. Currently, the release said, there are roughly 66,000 drivers on the road for UPS, and the company sees drones as a complement, not a replacement, for those drivers.

"Drivers are the face of our company, and that won't change," Wallace said in the 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."

In the test, UPS used the Workhorse HorseFly UAV Delivery system, which partners an octocopter delivery drone with an electric or hybrid delivery truck, the release said. The drone has a cage attached to it that drops into the DPS truck when the drone docks on the roof. After loading a package, the driver hits a button and the drone heads off to its pre-determined location, the release said.

The drone recharges while docked and can fly for 30 minutes at a time before needing to recharge. In its cage, it can carry a 10 pound package. In the future, the drone system could be optimized to work with UPS's ORION navigation system instead of the system from Workhorse.

UPS has been working with drones for years, often to assist medical organizations, but this is the first time they've been able to test the technology in a daily scenario. And, while the FAA has currently ruled out drone delivery, UPS has been working with the administration as part of its advisory committee.

"Last year, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued small unmanned aircraft systems rules that allow for some commercial use of drones and paved the way for future expanded applications," the release said. "UPS was one of 35 selected from a cross section of key stakeholders to serve on the FAA's drone advisory committee."

The 3 big takeaways for TechRepublic readers

  1. UPS successfully tested a drone delivery in Florida on Monday, using a drone launched from the top of a delivery truck.
  2. 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.
  3. UPS hopes that the drone system used in its test could eventually be managed by its ORION navigation system.

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About Conner Forrest

Conner Forrest is a Senior Editor for TechRepublic. He covers enterprise technology and is interested in the convergence of tech and culture.

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