This 'small' Ohio tech company built the drone UPS just flew from a moving delivery truck

Updated: Sep. 1, 2017 at 2:16 PM EDT
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CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - With the help of an Ohio-based tech company, UPS successfully tested a drone for potential use in day-to-day operations.

During the test, conducted in Lithia, Fla. in February, a drone launched from the top of a package car, delivered a package to a home, and returned to the vehicle while a driver continued along his route toward a separate delivery.

UPS conducted the test with the help of Workhorse Group, a Loveland-based company that deals with batteries, electric trucks, and drone development (Workhouse built the drone used Monday).

The company started in 2007 under the name AMP Electric Vehicles, first experimenting with adding battery electric power to two-seat roadsters. At the 2016 Advanced Clean Transportation Expo, Workhorse CEO Steve Burns described, quite simply, the company's focus.

"For those who may not know, Workhorse is a relatively small company," he said. "We focus on helping people deliver things."

The Discover Channel had its cameras in Ohio this week, with plans to feature the company on the program Daily Planet.

What this means for UPS

  • With 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 has about 66,000 delivery drivers on the road each day.
  • Rural delivery routes are the most expensive to serve due to the time and vehicle expenses required to complete each delivery.
  • In this test, the drone made one delivery while the driver continued down the road to make another. This is a possible role UPS envisions for drones in the future.

"Drivers are the face of our company, and that won't change," said Mark Wallace, UPS senior vice president of global engineering and sustainability. "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."

A closer look at Workhorse's drone

  • It is a high-efficiency, octocopter delivery drone that is fully integrated with Workhorse’s line of electric/hybrid delivery trucks.
  • The drone docks on the roof of the delivery truck.
  • A cage suspended beneath the drone, extends through a hatch into the truck.
  • A UPS driver inside loads a package into the cage and presses a button on a touch screen, sending the drone on a preset autonomous route to an address.
  • The battery-powered HorseFly drone recharges while it’s docked. It has a 30-minute flight time and can carry a package weighing up to 10 pounds.

For this week's test, Workhorse preset the route for the drone. But in the future, routes could be determined by UPS's On-Road Integrated Optimization and Navigation, which is the company's proprietary routing software.

UPS has been testing automation and robotics technologies, including drones, for years, and is utilizing drones to check inventory on high storage shelves in its warehouses.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration issued small unmanned aircraft systems rules in 2016 that allow for some commercial use of drones. UPS was one of 35 selected from a cross section of stakeholders to serve on the FAA's drone advisory committee.

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