Real-life package deliveries by drone are now underway in the Cincinnati area, due to American drone technology company Workhorse who are working with the City of Lovelend and the FAA in a pilot program.
Workhorse’s unique truck-and-drone last mile delivery solution, Horsefly, was successful granted a patent last month. The Horsefly drone, which possesses object avoidance capabilities and automatic braking complies with FAA requirements for line-of-sight deliveries.
The company’s aim is to make last mile delivery quicker and more cost efficient. According to Project Manager Jeff Bennett, who spoke with Drone Below last year, “Our system is designed to quickly get customers their package at a fraction of the cost. The cost is about two cents per mile to operate the UAS and about 30 cents per mile to operate our electric trucks.”
To do this, they have created their own fully electric and hybrid electric package delivery trucks, and created a UAS which takes off from the truck when it comes within a mile of the customer’s delivery address, delivers the package and then returns to the truck.
Customers living within selected Cincinnati zipcodes who have opted in to the pilot program receive packages via the Workhorse Ares Drone Package Delivery App. Workhorse have built the app to integrate with many existing e-commerce platforms.
The system, which has been successfully tested with UPS and an ‘undisclosed large retailer’, has had its share of obstacles to overcome to get this far.
“There were several challenges that were faced in the development of HorseFly, but most notably was the precision landing on top of the truck. To use the UAS as everyday delivery we had to build a drone that could handle all types of weather conditions,” explained Bennett.
The current pilot will provide the company with invaluable data and insights including consumer preferences and real-world evidence with which they hope to convince the FAA to extend possible use cases.
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“By not only reducing the expense of last mile delivery, but also providing the consumer with the ability to opt-in, visualize, and confirm their package delivery on their property, we have re-imagined home delivery,” said Steve Burns, Workhorse CEO.
The custom-built HorseFly UAV Delivery System operation was described in a press release from the company as follows:
- The truck delivery driver loads the package and launches the HorseFly drone
- The HorseFly drone autonomously launches from the roof of the delivery truck, gains altitude and proceeds to the delivery location, monitoring by a centralized Horsefly control center. The consumer can also monitor the progress of their package delivery through their downloaded app
- At the delivery location, which the consumer can choose on the app by touching the point on a map, the drone autonomously descends and the package is released. The consumer can opt-in to receive a photograph and confirmation of their delivery.
- The HorseFly drone returns to the delivery truck at a planned stop and autonomously redocks and recharges for its next delivery
Although not selected for participation in the Trump administration’s UAS Integration Pilot Program (IPP), Bennett applauds the move, saying, “This initiative will significantly progress the UAS movement.”
The collection of data across all UAS operators will help the FAA create new laws that will allow for safe UAS operation. This has had a great impact on the UAS community,” concludes Bennett.