(USA)

UPS could potentially save millions of dollars by using drones to make deliveries in rural areas.

This week the company successfully tested a drone that launches from the top of a UPS® package car, autonomously delivers a package to a home and then returns to the vehicle while the delivery driver continues along the route to make a separate delivery.

Workhouse, an Ohio-based battery-electric truck and drone developer, built the drone and the electric UPS package car used it in the test, conducted in Lithia, Fla. on Monday.

“This test is different than anything we’ve done with drones so far. It has implications for future deliveries, especially in rural locations where our package cars often have to travel miles to make a single delivery,” said Mark Wallace, UPS senior vice president of global engineering and sustainability. “Imagine a triangular delivery route where the stops are miles apart by road. Sending a drone from a package car to make just one of those deliveries can reduce costly miles driven. This is a big step toward bolstering efficiency in our network and reducing our emissions at the same time.”

With ORION, UPS’s On-Road Integrated Optimization Navigation routing software, a reduction of just one mile per driver per day over one year can save UPS up to $50 million. UPS has about 66,000 delivery drivers on the road each day. Rural delivery routes are the most expensive to serve due to the time and vehicle expenses required to complete each delivery. In this test, the drone made one delivery while the driver continued down the road to make another. This is a possible role UPS envisions for drones in the future.

“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.”

Stephen Burns, Workhorse founder and CEO, added: “It’s wonderful to see this technology applied in such a practical way. 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.”