UPS tests drone delivery, launching UAV from top of truck

Brittany BishopFeb 22, 2017

The company is already using drones to deliver blood and vaccines to hard-to-reach locations in Rwanda, but this is the first time UPS has used the technology for non-urgent residential deliveries. The packages to be delivered by drones will launch from UPS vans.

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 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. Even though the crash didn't knock anybody's head off, the idea that new kinds of radio interference can screw up the delivery drones compass means that UPS is going to do a lot more work before letting these things fly in public. "Imagine a triangular delivery route where the stops are miles apart by road", Wallace explained. This is a possible role UPS envisions for drones in the future.

Drone-maker Workhorse Group collaborated with UPS on its test, which took place in Lithia, Fla., on Monday.

UPS is represented on the Drone Advisory Committee for the Federal Aviation Administration, which just past year officially released rules and regulations on the use of small, unmanned electronic flying devices. The drone dropped off a package at a home on the property, and returned to the truck, which had moved about 2,000 feet.

Last year Mercedes-Benz announced a "multi-million dollar investment" in Matternet, the developer of autonomous drone systems, to create a similar integrated van/drone delivery system for small packages.

"Our drivers are the face of our company", Dodero said. 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. It doesn't require a pilot.

"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", said Mark Wallace, UPS senior vice president of global engineering and sustainability. Previous experiments saw the company stage a mock delivery of medicine from Beverly, Massachusetts to an island three-miles off the coast.

Both the drone industry and federal regulators are years away from actual legal drone deliveries in the United States. UPS also is utilizing drones to check inventory on high storage shelves in its warehouses. UPS was one of 35 selected from a cross section of key stakeholders to serve on the FAA's drone advisory committee.

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