UPS Tests Drone Launched from a Delivery Truck

The HorseFly drone takes off from its dock on a UPS delivery van. UPS

There’s a lot of buzz going on lately about drones and how they might be integrated into our daily lives, with the FAA creating rules for commercial use and a growing list of private companies developing pilotless modes of aerial transportation.

Package-delivery company UPS added to the conversation Monday with the first test of its residential drone delivery system in a rural area near Tampa, Florida.

The system uses an octocopter drone called the HorseFly that is launched from the top of an electric/hybrid delivery truck. A package is loaded by a driver into a cage beneath the drone and given a destination via a touch screen inside the van. The driver then makes deliveries in the van while the HorseFly drops off a package elsewhere and returns to the van at a new location, essentially allowing the driver to make two deliveries at once. The battery-powered drone has a 30-minute flight time, and it charges while it is docked in the van.

The HorseFly and van were developed by a company called Workhorse, which already makes electric/hybrid delivery trucks for UPS.

The HorseFly drone charges in its dock on top of the specially designed van. UPS

UPS says in the future, integrating drones into the company’s delivery system could reduce emissions while boosting efficiency, especially when making deliveries in rural areas. Cutting out a mile per driver per day over the course of a year would save the company up to $50 million, according to UPS. The company was quick to point out that drones won’t replace drivers but aid them in their deliveries.

Monday's test, however, was not without glitches, according to reports. The drone's first delivery went without a hitch, but when reporters asked for a second demonstration, something went wrong with the signal guiding the drone and the launch was aborted, according to TechCrunch.

Another hurdle still standing in the company’s way: Part 107 rules require commercial operators to keep small UAS within sight during flight. Drones also cannot be flown from a moving vehicle or over people who aren’t directly participating in the operation. Until UPS can find a way around those restrictions, drivers won’t be able to launch the drone, make their own deliveries and meet up with the drone down the road.

UPS says it’s one of 35 stakeholders on the FAA’s drone advisory committee, which is tasked with making recommendations to safely integrate drones into U.S. airspace.

Watch UPS’ vision for drone delivery below.


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