Just last week, we told you how the new hybrid electric powertrain Workhorse developed for UPS delivery vans (UPS calls them package cars) are up to 5 times more efficient than traditional vans. UPS has ordered 120 of them and with that sort of efficiency could be poised to order many more. The cooperation between UPS and Workhorse goes further than that, though. Workhorse has been working on drones that can deliver packages for since 2014.
On February 21, 2017, UPS driver Sid Perrin was delivering packages in rural Florida. At one driveway, she parked her truck, walked back into the cargo area, and loaded a package into the belly of a drone. Then she returned to the driver’s seat and pressed a button on a touchscreen. A panel in the roof opened, the drone took off and flew to the customer’s doorstep. There is deposited the package, then found its way back to the truck which had driven further up the road. It flew back inside and plugged itself in so it would be fully charged for its next mission.
The people at Workhorse not only have a clear vision of the future, they also have a sense of humor. The drone is named HorseFly. Clever, huh? It weighs 9.5 pounds, has eight rotors, and can stay aloft for 30 minutes.“A trial like this is important, because it’s not just a drone itself doing something, but all the support processes, and the people,” says Timothy Carone, a physicist and expert on automation at the University of Notre Dame. “As a test, it’s more realistic, because it’s looking at how it all integrates into the business.”
If it seems like a lot of work just to deliver one package down a long driveway, consider this. UPS has 66,000 drivers worldwide. If it could cut just one miles off of each of their routes every day, it could save $50 million a year in payroll and operating costs. UPS even instructs its drivers never to turn left because waiting for traffic eats up precious seconds and minutes. Better to make three right turns instead.