UPS, the world’s largest package delivery company, delivered a parcel via drone yesterday in a small town outside of Tampa, Fla.
The drone was mounted on the top of a delivery truck. The driver loaded a package into a cage from inside the truck, which is suspended under the drone through a hatch. The roof slid back to expose the drone, the driver pressed a button on a tablet and the drone was off to fly autonomously to its destination.
The truck driver and the drone, an octocopter, shared the work. After launching the aircraft, the driver drove to deliver another package. The drone then docked back on the truck down the road to recharge. Since it’s still illegal to fly a drone beyond the line of sight of the operator without special permission from the FAA, UPS probably had an observer making sure the drone performed correctly. We’ve reached out to UPS to confirm.
UPS says that shaving off just one mile for each of its 66,000 drivers a day could save the company up to $50 million a year.
Delivery in rural areas can be particularly expensive, where drivers often travel many miles between destinations to drop a single package. And delivery companies around the world are trying to reduce the cost of last-mile trips with drones.
In China, the online retailer JD has been using drones for the past year to ferry packages to remote parts of the country and plans to expand with dozens more routes this year. In France, the postal service ran a test last year using drones on a rural mail route in the Provence region. UPS tested another drone delivery scenario in September of last year, flying to an island off the coast of Boston to simulate the delivery of time-sensitive medical supplies.
The drone and drone-launching truck…