UPS Autonomously Delivers Package During Recent Test

By: John R. Bednarz

On Monday, February 20, 2017, UPS tested the use of an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) to successfully complete a residential package delivery in Lithia, Florida, near Tampa. The UAV was launched from a retractable portion of the roof of a UPS delivery vehicle. The UAV autonomously delivered the package to a home while the UPS delivery vehicle continued along a delivery route to make a separate delivery. The UAV returned to the vehicle after making its delivery and docked within the retractable portion of the roof. 

The UAV used during the test was a Workhorse HorseFly™ UAV Delivery system. Workhorse also built the delivery vehicle used in the test, a battery-electric truck. The HorseFly includes an eight-rotor octocopter, may travel up to forty-five miles per hour, and carry up to ten pounds during a thirty minute flight.

For the UPS test, Workhorse preset the route for the HorseFly. However, UPS noted that in the future, routes may be determined using UPS’s On-Road Integrated Optimization and Navigation (ORION). ORION serves as UPS’s proprietary routing software. Because rural delivery routes are expensive to serve, UPS believes that UAVs could be used in the future to help save on time and vehicle expenses.

In May of 2016, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) established the Drone Advisory Committee (DAC) to provide advice on unmanned aircraft integration issues. UPS is one of thirty-five stakeholders that were selected to serve on the DAC. UPS and other members of the committee will use tests such as this one to provide recommendations that could eventually lead to more widespread operations within the National Airspace System.