Ready Player One’s drone trucks are more likely than they seem, thanks to truck developer Workhorse that took steps toward a similar vehicle this week. Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of the science-fiction novel, released to theaters Thursday, sees Wade Watts competing in a virtual reality game used to escape the harsh realities of the year 2045. An old United States Postal Service truck serves as Watts’ base, and its drone-packing design could assist the mailman on routes sooner than expected.
In the same week as the film’s release, Workhorse announced that four N-Gen electric vans hit the road this week in the San Francisco Bay Area, a 5,500-pound van capable of carrying a one-ton load and moving 100 miles between recharges with a 60 kilowatt-hour battery setup. When the truck was initially announced in November 2017, Workhorse also said the N-Gen could use a Horsefly drone delivery system that flies out of the roof to deliver smaller packages and saving time on routes, but these initial vehicles don’t offer the drone feature at this stage.
Perhaps most enticing is the prospect of a United States Postal Service truck packing the feature. In April 2015 Workhorse’s proposal was among those pre-qualified for a bidding contract with the service to build its next-generation truck, showing how Horsefly drones could supplement the mailman’s work. The final shortlisted design lacked the drone, but the proposal shows how the truck could improve in the future.
The Horsefly addition is the result of a collaboration with the University of Cincinnati, with the fifth generation demonstrated in 2015 a 15-pound machine capable of carrying a 10-pound package. The drone is capable of flying up to 50 miles per hour at maximum speed with a more regular cruise speed of 35 miles per hour. A software link from the van guides the drone to a location one or two miles away, saving time for the delivery driver.
While the San Francisco vans won’t be delivering packages through the sky, the feature could resurface when the company conducts further tests later this year. The company plans to roll out further in one other California city and in Ohio, which could prove more conducive to drone tests.
Perhaps the prospect of an abandoned drone delivery van in 2045 isn’t so farfetched after all.