Using drones to deliver packages doesn’t need to eliminate delivery drivers’ jobs. Under a new system tested by UPS this week, drones could help speed up a delivery driver’s route by splitting the work.
The delivery service says it has tested a drone that launches from a UPS truck and delivers a package to a home while the driver continues on his route. The technology could shave miles off a driver’s route, especially in rural areas. Cutting just one mile per day from a driver’s route could save UPS up to $50 million a year, the company said.
UPS is one of several e-commerce and delivery companies experimenting with drones as a way to reduce delivery times and access difficult-to-reach locations more efficiently. Most notably, Amazon recently started making its first drone deliveries in the UK.
Drone-maker Workhorse Group collaborated with UPS on its test, which took place in Lithia, Fla., on Monday.
Using this system, a UPS driver can place a package inside the cage of an octocopter delivery drone docked on the roof of the truck. The cage extends into the truck, and once the package is inside the driver pushes a button to send it on a delivery. It can fly up to 30 minutes and carry a 10-pound package. In between deliveries, the battery-powered drone recharges.
“It’s wonderful to see this technology applied in such a practical way,” said Workhorse CEO Stephen Burns in a press release. “The drone is fully autonomous. It doesn’t require a pilot. So the delivery driver is free to make other deliveries while the drone is away.”
UPS has been testing the implications of drones on delivery for years, but the company said this was the first time it has studied how a drone could assist drivers with day-to-day deliveries. The potential impact these drones could have on deliveries in rural areas is huge, according to Mark Wallace, UPS senior vice president of global engineering and sustainability.
With rural deliveries, drivers often travel miles between homes. Using a drone to deliver one package as the driver delivers another would reduce travel time and emissions.
“Drivers are the face of our company, and that won’t change,” Wallace said. “What’s exciting is the potential for drones to aid drivers at various points along their routes, helping them save time and deliver on increasing customer service needs that stem from the growth of e-commerce.”
In Monday’s test in Florida, the drone used a preset route to deliver the package, but, in the future, UPS said it could use its existing software to route the drone. Watch a UPS video of the test flight below.