UPS Tries Arming Its Brown-Clad Drivers With an Octocopter Drone

UPS has been working with drones for years, often to assist medical organizations, but this is the first time they've been able to test the technology in a daily scenario.

Unlike previous occasions, UPS said its latest test shows how drones can be used as part of regular day-to-day deliveries.

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

What's more, UPS and Workhorse point out that, right now, the drone technology is best-suited for sparsely-populated environments, as more densely-populated environments present more hazards for the drone; UPS says their drone-delivery plans right now only include rural environments.

"This is really a vision for the future for us", UPS senior vice president for engineering and sustainability, Mark Wallace, said in an interview with Business Insider. "Imagine a triangular delivery route where the stops are miles apart by road", Wallace explained. Sending a drone from a package vehicle to make just one of those deliveries can reduce costly miles driven.

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UPS conducted the test in Florida with Workhorse Group, an Ohio-based battery-electric truck and drone developer. In this test, the drone made one delivery while the driver continued down the road about 2,000 feet where the drone returned. Following delivery, the drone navigates back to the truck, which has moved on to the next delivery in the interim.

UPS also promises that drones are not about to displace UPS drivers, which they call "the face of our company". 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. That's because UPS may send your package via drone.

To be clear, we're not now facing a UPS drone invasion with many multiples of autonomous flying machines attacking the USA. It doesn't require a pilot. 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. In September it stated a mock delivery from Beverly, Mass.to an island off the Atlantic coast, over open water.

Last year, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued small unmanned aircraft systems rules that allow for some commercial use of drones and paved the way for future expanded applications.

The company also now uses drones to check inventory on high storage shelves in its warehouses, which is already legal to do.

  • Rita Burton