After first testing the idea of using drones to deliver packages to extra remote locations, UPS is making its move into more residential skies with octocopters that can be launched from roving trucks.
The company says it successfully tested the HorseFly drone yesterday in Lithia, FL, along with the company that built both the drone and the electric UPS vehicle that launches it, Workhorse Group.
The drone docks on the roof of the delivery truck, and a cage suspended beneath it extends through a hatch into the vehicle. 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 battery-powered HorseFly drones recharge during docking, and have a 30-minute flight time limit, carrying a package weighing up to 10 pounds.
For this test, UPS launched the vehicle from the roof of a truck about a quarter mile away to a blueberry farm. The octocopter delivered its payload at a home on the property and then flew back to the truck, which had moved down the road to allow its driver to make another delivery.
UPS says the system is different from its other drone work thus far, and could make the company’s network more efficient while reducing emissions.
“It has implications for future deliveries, especially in rural locations where our package cars often have to travel miles to make a single delivery,” said Mark Wallace, UPS senior vice president of global engineering and sustainability. “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.”
As always with these tests, it’s worth noting are still obstacles to drone deliveries: Federal Aviation Administration regulations don’t allow commercial drones to fly over any humans not involved in operating them, and requires them to stay within line of sight of their pilots at all times — something drivers could ostensibly do from their trucks in this case, depending on how far away the destination is.