UPS tries arm­ing its driv­ers with an oc­to­copter drone

The Hamilton Spectator - - BUSINESS - MICHAEL SASSO

United Par­cel Ser­vice sees a day when your lat­est pur­chase may be dropped off not by a brown-clad delivery driver, but by an oc­to­copter drone.

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, Fla. The drone dropped off a pack­age at a home on the prop­erty, and re­turned to the truck, which had moved about 2,000 feet.

The test shows how UPS is look­ing to drones as a way to cut costs and ease delivery in hard-tore­ach places. De­ploy­ing the air­craft in ru­ral ar­eas — where the dis­tance be­tween stops drives up fuel and labour costs — is one of the more promis­ing ap­pli­ca­tions.

“Drones won’t re­place our uni­formed ser­vice providers,” says Mark Wal­lace, UPS’s se­nior vi­cepres­i­dent of global en­gi­neer­ing and sus­tain­abil­ity. “That’s key, but in this case, it re­ally is there to as­sist.”

Mon­day’s trial was the clear­est in­di­ca­tion that At­lanta-based UPS wants to use drones for home delivery, as do In­ter­net re­tailer Ama­ and Google par­ent Al­pha­bet Inc. Those com­pa­nies and oth­ers still must over­come sig­nif­i­cant reg­u­la­tory hur­dles be­fore delivery-by-drone be­comes the norm.

UPS says it hasn’t cal­cu­lated how much the po­ten­tial shift could help cut costs, but es­ti­mates in gen­eral that re­duc­ing each driver’s mileage by a mile a day could save $50 mil­lion a year. The com­pany op­er­ates more than 100,000 road ve­hi­cles, ac­cord­ing to its web­site.

UPS has en­listed Love­land, Ohio-based Workhorse Group, which makes the courier’s plug-in elec­tric delivery ve­hi­cles, to de­sign a “rolling ware­house” sys­tem in which a drone is de­ployed from the roof of a UPS truck and flies at an al­ti­tude of 200 feet to the des­ti­na­tion. It re­turns af­ter drop­ping off the pack­age.

The air­craft weighs 18 pounds and can carry a 10-pound pay­load, says Workhorse chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer Steve Burns. The driver can use a street view of the des­ti­na­tion to de­ter­mine where the item should be de­liv­ered. For safety rea­sons, the drones cur­rently won’t fly un­der struc­tures, such as awnings, so a pack­age may be left sev­eral feet from a home’s doorstep.

Cur­rent U.S. reg­u­la­tions gen­er­ally don’t al­low flights over peo­ple or be­yond the sight of a drone op­er­a­tor — mak­ing true de­liv­er­ies im­pos­si­ble for now.


On Mon­day, UPS tested a res­i­den­tial delivery via a drone that was launched from on top of a truck in Tampa, Fla.

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