Unlike previous drone tests, suggested UPS, this test incorporated drone delivery into day-to-day delivery truck operations.
How does a UPS drone deliver packages?
The drones are being tested with hopes of streamlining routes and increasing efficiency.
The drone-equipped vans would only be used on rural routes, said Mark Wallace, senior vice president for global engineering and sustainability, UPS.
"Imagine a triangular delivery route where the stops are miles apart by road", Wallace said in the release.
With ORION, UPS's On-Road Integrated Optimization Navigation routing software, a reduction of just one mile per driver per day over one year can save UPS up to $50 million.
UPS realizes that drones are years away from daily use, but Wallace said its founder long ago said, "our horizon is as distant as our mind's eye wishes it to be". Deliveries made in rural areas are considered the most expensive delivery routes.
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The technology behind drone delivery is still nascent and needs perfecting. UPS now has one of its executives on the FAA's drone advisory council, an indication of its interest in drones. That company built the drone and the electric UPS package vehicle used in the test. When it's done delivering the package, the drone then docks back on the roof of the truck and recharges. The truck looks like a relatively standard brown delivery van, but on the inside, there's space to store and load a drone.
UPS used a new electric delivery truck with a drone launchpad atop it.
Inside the nest is a Workhorse HorseFly autonomous drone with the ability to fly for 30 minutes and carry 10 pounds worth of packages. The company operates more than 100,000 road vehicles, according to its website. It doesn't require a pilot. Drone deliveries would allow drivers to avoid driving up to individual drop-off points, thus reducing miles driven.
UPS has been testing automation and robotics technologies, including drones, for years.
Last September, UPS staged a mock delivery of urgently needed medicine from Beverly, Mass., to an island 3 miles off the Atlantic coast. Have a peek at the timeline below for additional instances of UPS pushing into the future with drone deliveries.
The company also now uses drones to check inventory on high storage shelves in its warehouses, which is already legal to do. Federal Aviation Administration issued rules that allow for some commercial use of drones and expanded future applications. Director of Safety for UPS Airlines Capt. Houston Mills is also part of the FAA's Drone Advisory Committee (DAC).