UPS has been trialling its drone delivery service, which uses a truck as a set off and landing pad, with a robotic arm that takes the octocopter into its belly, ready for reloading.
The trial happened on a farm in Tampa, Florida and demonstrated how a multi-rotor drone could take off from the top of a customised van, deliver the goods to a property and then return to the van which by then had travelled further down the road. Upon approach, a robotic arm reaches out for the drone and pulls it back in.
By using this method, it ensures UPS drivers are always able to see the drone, which means it adheres to FAA regulations. It’ll use UPS’s proprietary routing software, called the On-Road Integrated Optimization and Navigation (ORION) to determine the best, most efficient route, although in trials, it used a predetermined route.
The drone was provided by Ohio-based Workhorse Group, which is already a UPS technology supplier. The HorseFly model is made from carbon fibre, making it superlight, but also very rigid. It’s powered by a lithium 18650 battery pack and is charged when the drone returns to the truck, using the vehicle’s battery to recharge it.
However, the battery can last for 30 minutes of uninterrupted flying, which should mean it can make a few deliveries without having to be re-docked.
It’s strong enough to carry packages weighing up to 10lbs, so it’s probably not suited to commercial deliveries, but packages to residential addresses should be a doddle.
“We looked at what it’s likely to have to carry – it’s not going to have to carry a 50-pound TV, or something like that,” explains Workhorse CEO Steve Burns. “We looked at what’s the average package they’re carrying, and built it around the best use case.”