UPS tests van-top delivery drone

The test was conducted in collaboration with drone manufacturing company Workhorse Group, an Ohio-based developer of battery-powered electric trucks and drones, which claims its product can complete last-mile deliveries for mere cents per mile.

UPS wouldn't give a timeline about how soon they believed they would start using drones for package deliveries, but executives made it clear that the rollout was not imminent, as the technology is still being developed, and regulations are still too restrictive. 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 drone-equipped vans would only be used on rural routes, said Mark Wallace, senior vice president for global engineering and sustainability, UPS.

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"Imagine a triangular delivery route where the stops are miles apart by road", Wallace said in the release. Using a drone to deliver one package as the driver delivers another would reduce travel time and emissions.

It's for this reason why I'm not even remotely surprised UPS is getting into the drone delivery space, which promises to explode as the technology behind it becomes more accurate and affordable. 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. When the drone is docked, it's charging up to make a quick jaunt from the truck on the street to the customer's front door.

United Parcel Service Inc. sees a day when your latest purchase may be dropped off not by a brown-clad delivery driver, but by an octocopter drone. Maximum flight time is 30 minutes, and it can carry up to 10 pounds. Then a section of the truck's roof slides backwards, so that the drone can take off.

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The drone used in Monday's test was the Workhorse HorseFly™ UAV Delivery system. Last September, UPS staged a mock delivery of urgently needed medicine from Beverly, an island three miles off the Atlantic coast. While UPS says this test does not demonstrate the end-all goal, it is "a possible role UPS envisions for drones in the future", he said. Additionally, UPS is using drones extensively for humanitarian relief, partnering with third-party organizations to deliver life-saving blood and vaccines to hard-to-reach locations in Rwanda.

This wasn't the first drone test from UPS (UPS). Director of Safety for UPS Airlines Capt. Houston Mills is also part of the FAA's Drone Advisory Committee (DAC).

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