UPS drone launched from truck on delivery route

Posted February 22, 2017

In September 2016, UPS teamed with drone company CyPhy Works to deliver a package to an island near Boston. UPS has been developing drones for a number of different types of deliveries, and the HorseFly drone is the model to assist drivers on delivery routes.

Monday's trial was the clearest indication that Atlanta-based UPS wants to use drones for home delivery, as do internet retailer Amazon.com Inc. and Google parent Alphabet Inc. A driver on the inside loads a package into the cage, presses a button on a touch screen, and sends the drone flying on a preset autonomous route to its destination. The dock acts as a charging station, but Workhorse claims the drone could operate for up to 30 minutes carrying packages up to 10 pounds, if necessary. The company is hoping this is the first step towards more automated delivery. With 66,000 delivery drivers on the road each day, UPS says that a reduction of just one mile per driver, per day, would save the company up to US$50 million per year.

The drone-equipped vans would only be used on rural routes, said Mark Wallace, senior vice president for global engineering and sustainability, UPS. Using a drone to deliver one package as the driver delivers another would reduce travel time and emissions.

"Our drivers are the face of our company", Dodero said. Workhorse built both the drone and the electric UPS package vehicle used in the test. The government is now using 15 "Zips" drones to make up to 150 emergency deliveries per day of life-saving blood to 21 transfusion facilities in the western half of the country. It's not legal to run a fully automated drone delivery service in the United States. UPS was one of 35 selected from a cross-section of key stakeholders to serve on the FAA's drone advisory committee. The drone then docked back on the truck down the road to recharge. Drone deliveries would allow drivers to avoid driving up to individual drop-off points, thus reducing miles driven.

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A year ago the company partnered with robotics manufacturer Zipline and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, to set up a drone delivery system in Rwanda.

The company also now uses drones to check inventory on high storage shelves in its warehouses, which is already legal to do.

The test shows how drones could help in making non-urgent residential deliveries as part of day-to-day operations. The company can be found on the web at ups.com and its corporate blog can be found at longitudes.ups.com.