UPS tests drone to deliver packages

UPS successfully tested a drone that launched a package from the top of a UPS truck and delivered it to a farm near Tampa, Fla. The drone returned to the vehicle while the delivery driver continued along the route to make a separate delivery. Photo by UPS

Feb. 22 (UPI) — United Parcel Service tested a drone that delivered a package about a quarter of a mile from the top of a truck to a blueberry farm outside of Tampa, Fla.

The Atlanta-based company conducted the test Monday with Workhorse Group, an Ohio-based battery-electric truck and drone developer.

In the test, the drone was docked on the roof of the delivery truck. A UPS driver inside the truck loaded a package into a cage and sent the drone on a preset route. In this test, the drone made one delivery while the driver continued down the road about 2,000 feet where the drone returned.

The 18-pound drone has a 30-minute flight time and can carry a package weighing up to 10 pounds.

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

UPS has about 102,000 delivery drivers on the road each day and rural deliveries are the most expensive.

“Drivers are the face of our company, and that won’t change,” Wallace 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.”

Last September, UPS staged a mock delivery of urgently needed medicine from Beverly, Mass., to an island 3 miles off the Atlantic coast. UPS is using drones for humanitarian relief and to check inventory on high storage shelves in its warehouses.

Last year, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration issued rules that allow for some commercial use of drones and expanded future applications.

“The comfort of having a brown drone, a brown truck and a brown uniform all close by is a great way to bring it into the mainstream,” Burns told Bloomberg.

The drones won’t fly under structures for now, so a package may be left several feet from a home’s doorstep, said Workhorse CEO Steve Burns.

Amazon and Google parent Alphabet Inc. have also been testing drones for deliveries.


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