A Work Horse Group drone that docks on top of a UPS van being tested near Lithia, Florida. SAN FRANCISCO -- Both the drone industry and federal regulators are years away from actual legal drone deliveries in the United States. But that's not stopping companies from testing possibilities, both to get the visual of a drone with their logo out in front of the public and to see what works. UPS was the latest to try something new with drones on Tuesday when it ran a test of a truck-launched drone delivery system for rural areas in Lithia, Fla. The drone-equipped vans would only be used on rural routes, said Mark Wallace, senior vice president for global engineering and sustainability, UPS.
Package delivery company United Parcel Service tested home delivery by drone in Lithia, Florida, on Monday, the first step in what the company hopes will be a move toward more automated delivery. A drone launched from a UPS car roof, flew autonomously toward its destination, dropped a package and then returned to the vehicle, as the driver separately continued on a delivery route. The Tampa-area test, which UPS said went as expected, came less than a month after UPS said it would push forward investment in automation and technology as the company, along with rival FedEx Corp, struggles with slimmer margins from e-commerce business. The system is aimed at rural routes where deliveries are spread out over a large location. It allows drivers to simply pass close to the final delivery destination on a preprogrammed route.
On Monday, a UPS drone buzzed over fields in Lithia, Florida, to deliver a test package to a rural home. It was launched from the roof of a modified UPS truck and automatically returned to the vehicle after making its drop-off. The idea is that the driver can continue along his or her route while the drone makes a delivery that would otherwise be out of the way. "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," said Mark Wallace, UPS senior vice president of global engineering, in a press release on Tuesday.
Drone-based deliveries are quickly moving out of the realm of science fiction. Amazon, 7-11 and a host of startups are already toying with the idea. Now, UPS, one of the biggest parcel delivery services on the planet, is testing a system that will drop packages at your door while the driver moves on to the next house. That last bit of distance between a UPS driver's van and the recipient's door is the least efficient portion of the entire shipping process. In fact, UPS figures that if it can cut just one mile from the 66,000 routes its drivers cover every day, the company could save upwards of $50 million annually.
As of this afternoon, select residents of Christiansburg, Virginia can tap drones operated by Google parent company Alphabet's Wing for quick and easy deliveries of packages, over-the-counter medications, snacks, and gifts. The company today revealed that it's become the first to operate a commercial air delivery service directly to homes in the U.S., with the launch of a previously announced pilot involving FedEx Express, Walgreens, and local Virginia retailer Sugar Magnolia. From Walgreens, the first retail pharmacy to partner with Wing in the U.S., drone fleets will ferry over-the-counter medicines and other wellness items to folks' homes. And on the FedEx Express side, recipients living within designated Christiansburg zones who opt in will receive some shipments via drone, in customized boxes. Most orders within the four-mile radius of Wing's distribution facility are fulfilled within about 10 minutes, according to the company.