Thursday, February 23, 2017

UPS Tests Rooftop Drone Delivery System for Packages

The Workhorse Group HorseFly octocopter lifts off from a UPS delivery truck to fly a preset, autonomous route.
(Photo: UPS)

UPS said it successfully tested an octocopter drone that launches from the top of a package truck, delivers a package to a house and returns to the truck. The delivery giant is evaluating the use of drones to transport packages to dispersed addresses in rural areas.

UPS conducted the test on February 20 in Lithia, Florida, with Workhorse Group of Loveland, Ohio. Workhorse designs and produces battery-electric power trains and also manufactures medium-duty truck chassis at a plant in Union City, Indiana. It built the eight-rotor “HorseFly” drone and the electric UPS delivery truck used in the test.

The HorseFly docks on the roof of the delivery truck; a cage suspended beneath it drops into the truck through a hatch. The driver loads a package into the cage and using a touchscreen controller dispatches the drone on a preset autonomous route to an address. The octocopter can fly for 30 minutes on battery power and carry a package weighing up to 10 pounds. It recharges while docked on the roof.

Workhorse preset the route the drone flew for the test, but future plans call for integrating flight plans with UPS’s proprietary On-Road Integrated Optimization and Navigation routing software.

Atlanta-based UPS says it has been testing automation and robotics technologies, including drones, for years. In September, the package company demonstrated a mock medicine delivery from Beverly, Massachusetts, to Children’s Island, off the Massachusetts coast, using a CyPhy Works hexacopter. In partnership with relief organizations, UPS has used drones to deliver blood and vaccines in Rwanda. It has also evaluated drones to monitor inventory at warehouses in Kentucky and the Netherlands.

Unlike previous uses, the package-delivery flight in Florida demonstrated how drones might assist UPS drivers in fulfilling non-urgent residential deliveries. Rural delivery routes are the most costly to serve, and reducing one mile per driver per day over the course of a year could save the company up to $50 million, UPS said.

“This test is different than anything we’ve done with drones so far,” said Mark Wallace, UPS senior vice president of global engineering and sustainability. “It has implications for future deliveries, especially in rural locations where our package cars often have to travel miles to make a single delivery. This is a big step toward bolstering efficiency in our network and reducing our emissions at the same time.”
(Bill Carey - AINOnline News)

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