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UPS Tests Drone for Seamless Residential Deliveries

UPS is advancing its residential delivery process with a new technology device.

The global shipping company, in collaboration with drone developer Workhorse Group, tested a drone that launches from the top of a UPS package car on Monday in Lithia, Florida. The drone autonomously delivers a package to a home and then returns to the vehicle, enabling the delivery driver to continue its delivery route without interruption. With this technology, UPS can efficiently deliver packages to rural locations and save millions on delivery costs each year.

“Imagine a triangular delivery route where the stops are miles apart by road. Sending a drone from a package car to make just one of those deliveries can reduce costly miles driven,” UPS SVP of global engineering and sustainability Mark Wallace said. “This is a big step toward bolstering efficiency in our network and reducing our emissions at the same time.”

The UPS test comes after Amazon’s inaugural drone delivery in December in the UK. And the ecommerce powerhouse has secured a patent to develop a floating distribution center that would service its Amazon Prime Air drone force.

If coordinated with Orion, UPS’s On-Road Integrated Optimization Navigation routing software, using the drone could reduce the number of miles each driver travels daily over one year, which would save UPS up to $50 million in logistics expenses. Every day, UPS has approximately 66,000 delivery drivers on the road. Rural delivery routes are the costliest for UPS, due to the vehicle expenses and time required to complete each delivery.

Drones could be one solution to help UPS grab more margin from home deliveries, which–as the company explained in its fourth quarter financial statement–are less profitable but more plentiful than B2B business. The company reported that 55 percent of its deliveries in the quarter were to residential addresses, a number that reached 63 percent in December, according to The Wall Street Journal. UPS acknowledged it needs to create new solutions faster to keep pace with ecommerce demands.

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UPS used the Workhorse HorseFly UAV Delivery system drone for Monday’s test. The drone is an octocopter delivery drone that is used with Workhorse’s fleet of electric/hybrid delivery trucks. First, the drone docks on the roof of a delivery truck and a cage under the drone then extends through a hatch into the truck. Inside the truck, a UPS driver loads a package into the cage and presses a button on a touch screen to send the drone on a preset autonomous delivery route. Features of the drone include self-charging capabilities, a 30-minute flight time and the ability to carry packages that weigh 10 pounds or less.

Although Workhorse preset the drone’s route for the test, UPS hopes to integrate its Orion navigation system with drones in upcoming years. By combining the two technologies together, UPS could ensure efficient delivery, while speeding up its logistics operations.

Over the past few years, UPS has tested robotics technologies, including drones, to advance its delivery processes. In September, UPS conducted a mock delivery of medicine from Beverly, Massachusetts, to an island off the Atlantic coast. UPS has also incorporated drones for humanitarian relief efforts and partnered with third party organizations to deliver vaccines to isolated locations in Rwanda. The company currently uses drones at its warehouses to check inventory on high storage shelves.

In 2016, UPS was also selected as one of 35 stakeholders to serve on the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) drone advisory committee. The committee will provide the FAA with recommendations on crucial drone integration problems, which will enable the devices to eventually be used safely within the National Air Space System.