Singapore: UPS has announced that it has successfully tested a drone that launches from the top of a UPS package car, autonomously delivers a package to a home and then returns to the vehicle while the delivery driver continues along the route to make a separate delivery.
UPS conducted the test in Tampa, Florida, US, with Workhorse Group, an Ohio-based battery-electric truck and drone developer. Workhorse built the drone and the electric UPS package car used in the test.
With Orion, UPS’s On-Road Integrated Optimisation Navigation routing software, a reduction of just one mile per driver per day over one year can save UPS up to US$50 million. UPS has about 102,000 delivery drivers worldwide 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. In this test, the drone made one delivery while the driver continued down the road to make another. This is a possible role UPS envisions for drones in the future.
The drone used in for this test was the Workhorse HorseFly UAV Delivery system. It is designed to be a high-efficiency, octocopter delivery drone that is fully integrated with Workhorse’s line of electric/hybrid delivery trucks. The drone docks on the roof of the delivery truck. A cage suspended beneath the drone, extends through a hatch into the truck. A UPS driver inside loads a package into the cage and presses a button on a touch screen, sending the drone on a preset autonomous route to an address. The battery-powered HorseFly drone recharges while it is docked. It has a 30-minute flight time and can carry a package weighing up to 10 pounds.
UPS has been testing automation and robotics technologies, including drones, for years. In September 2016, UPS staged a mock delivery of urgently needed medicine from Beverly Massachusetts, US, to an island three miles off the Atlantic coast. Additionally, UPS is using drones extensively for humanitarian relief, partnering with third-party organisations to deliver life-saving blood and vaccines to hard-to-reach locations in Rwanda. UPS is also utilising drones to check inventory on high storage shelves in its warehouses.
Unlike all of the previous tests, the most recent UPS drone test shows how drones might assist in making non-urgent residential deliveries as part of the day-to-day operation. Last year, the US 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. UPS was one of 35 selected from a cross section of key stakeholders to serve on the FAA’s drone advisory committee. The committee will provide the FAA recommendations on key drone integration issues that will ultimately allow for safe and secure operations of drones within the National Air Space System.