Drone can carry up to 10 pounds, potentially easing rural deliveries.
Next time you’re waiting on a delivery from UPS, you might want to look to the sky rather than your driveway. The company with the big brown vans is testing a drone delivery system that could save UPS lots of money on deliveries to rural areas in the U.S.
The trial system used Workhorse HorseFly drones that were integrated into the top of standard UPS vans. The drones, which recharge automatically when docked, can fly for about 30 minutes and carry a payload of up to 10 pounds (4.5 kilograms). The UPS van driver loads a package into a special compartment, which the drone then transports to its final destination – while the driver continues along his or her route.
UPS says that this technology has the greatest potential in rural areas, which tend to be inefficient and expensive for delivery vans to serve. In fact, the company says that wth 66,000 drivers on the roads each day, eliminating just one mile of driving per driver per day can save the company $50 million annually.
“Imagine a triangular delivery route where the stops are miles apart by road. Sending a drone from a package car to make just one of those deliveries can reduce costly miles driven,” Mark Wallace, UPS senior vice president of global engineering and sustainability, said in a statement. “This is a big step toward bolstering efficiency in our network and reducing our emissions at the same time.”
UPS is one of 35 companies to serve on the Federal Aviation Administration’s drone advisory council, helping the agency establish rules and requirements for safe commercial drone use nationwide. UPS is also testing drove deliveries of humanitarian supplies in Rwanda, and to check inventory levels on high shelves within warehouses.
Despite this effort to automate the so-called last-mile of some deliveries, UPS emphasizes that this isn’t necessarily a move to eliminate human workers: “Drivers are the face of our company, and that won’t change,” Wallace said.
Amazon has dipped its toes into the world of drone delivery, experimenting with a program called Amazon Prime Air. And the Mercedes-Benz Vision Van Concept shown last September had airborne drones that deployed to deliver packages short distances.