United Parcel Service (UPS) 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 on Monday, 20th of February 2017, in Tampa, Florida (USA) 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 Optimization Navigation routing software, a reduction of just one mile per driver per day over one year can save UPS up to $50 million. UPS has about 102,000 delivery drivers 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.

“Drivers are the face of our company, and that won’t change,” Mark Wallace, UPS senior vice president of global engineering and sustainability, said. “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.”

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UPS, a logistic solution provider, has begun testing the use of drones to make commercial deliveries of packages to remote or difficult-to-access locations, working together with drone-maker CyPhy Works.
 

The drone used in test was the Workhorse HorseFly UAV Delivery system. It is 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’s docked. It has a 30-minute flight time and can carry a package weighing up to 10 pounds (4.53 kilograms).

UPS has been testing automation and robotics technologies, including drones, for years. Last September, UPS staged a mock delivery of urgently needed medicine from Beverly, Mass. to an island three miles off the Atlantic coast. 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. UPS is also utilizing drones to check inventory on high storage shelves in its warehouses.