UPS is Still Working Out the Bugs in Its Drone Delivery System


The brown UPS delivery drone floats out of the roof hatch of a UPS delivery van like a bug released from a cup, and then autonomously flies its package to your doorstep. It turns around and zips back to its driver, landing on the roof and where it’s covered by the cargo bay to be loaded up again.

This is the dream of the UPS delivery drone program, built in partnership with Workhorse, an electric car and drone design company. UPS has been developing drones for a number of different types of deliveries, and the HorseFly drone is the model to assist drivers on delivery routes.

UPS ran its first public test of the HorseFly on Monday, in a quiet suburb outside Tampa, Florida. It went well, but one of the test flights started with a glitch that nearly wrecked the drone. Despite the bugs that need to be worked out of the delivery system, the brown octocopter delivery drones have a lot of potential for delivery.

In the first test flight, the driver sent the HorseFly out of the truck with a package and it flew autonomously to its location. It returned to dock with the van. Then the UPS team got cocky and tried to run a second unplanned delivery — which started with a drone glitch, causing it to almost fall off the delivery truck and nearly be crushed when the drone hatch started closing with the drone still stuck to on the roof.

After the flight, Stephen Burns, the CEO of Workhorse, told TechCrunch: “or the photographers, we tried to do a quick, augmented, non-traditional delivery and something went wrong. We probably shouldn’t have tried something weird like that with everybody watching.”

It’s important to note that successful delivery route was pre-programmed, so the autonomous system might not be totally ready yet. HorseFly can carry packages up to 10 pounds and has 30 minutes of battery, recharging when it docks back with the truck. And since drivers are making deliveries alongside the drones which keep the HorseFly in sight, the drones are both legal in the U.S. and reasonable delivery tools.

So when everything goes as planned, the drone acts as an assistant, particularly in rural areas where deliveries are harder for drivers. Once UPS figures out how to debug the system, the little brown dudes will probably be flitting out of UPS trucks all over. Your move Amazon.

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