UPS delivers on truck-drone hybrid (The 3:59, Ep. 182)

UPS delivers on truck-drone hybrid (The 3:59, Ep. 182)

The world's largest courier took a step closer to that future on Monday, launching an unmanned aerial vehicle from the roof of a UPS truck about a quarter-mile to a blueberry farm outside Tampa, Florida. The cage extends into the truck, and once the package is inside the driver pushes a button to send it on a delivery. The drone would then autonomously deliver a package at a designated location while the driver continues to the next delivery spot. (Its battery lasts for 30 minutes.) The drone UPS tested was capable of carrying packages up to 10 pounds.The drone is big enough to roughly fit in the trunk of a sedan. Even though the crash didn't knock anybody's head off, the idea that new kinds of radio interference can screw up the delivery drones compass means that UPS is going to do a lot more work before letting these things fly in public.

Talking about done delivery testing by UPS, Senior Vice President of Global Engineering and Sustainability Mark Wallace said, "The test was unlike anything UPS has done with drones thus far".

Wallace explained that the deliveries could be operated along a "triangular delivery route, where the stops are miles apart by road". Cutting just one mile per day from a driver's route could save UPS up to $50 million a year, the company said. The drone sits in a docking station (that doubles as a charging station) atop the truck. Currently, the release said, there are roughly 66,000 drivers on the road for UPS, and the company sees drones as a complement, not a replacement, for those drivers. UPS is using drones for humanitarian relief and to check inventory on high storage shelves in its warehouses. Drone-deliveries could cut down on costs, says UPS, by saving gasoline and time, a savings which might also be passed down to the customer, or at the very least, help UPS keep up with the growing demand for home deliveries. It doesn't require a pilot. Instead of replacing drivers, drones would act as an augmenter, saving time and money.

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Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations only allow drones to go no more than 400 feet in the air, although those regulations could soon change. Last September, UPS staged a mock delivery of urgently needed medicine from Beverly, an island three miles off the Atlantic coast. UPS was one of 35 selected from a cross section of key stakeholders to serve on the FAA's drone advisory committee.

The company also now uses drones to check inventory on high storage shelves in its warehouses, which is already legal to do.