UPS tests delivery drones, with modest success

The tech, still in its infancy, shows promise for last-mile delivery.

As drones become cheaper and more advanced, they're also becoming more ubiquitous. They're used now in the military, in filmmaking, and even as a racing platform. Companies like Amazon, Domino's, and Mercedes-Benz dream of using autonomous robots to deliver goods to your door. As TechCrunch reports, the latest drone test from UPS gives us a pretty good sense of where we are on the delivery drone timeline.

Workhorse, the same company that provides electrified trucks to UPS, developed the drone system UPS showed off earlier this week. The HorseFly octocopter deploys from the roof of the truck, able to carry a package weighing up to 10 pounds to its final residential destination. Current FAA rules require a visual line of sight between the drone and its operator, but it runs on an autonomous route unless the driver needs to take over for some reason. The HorseFly communicates with the truck via 4G, but also uses RF as a backup when a 4G signal isn't available (like in rural areas, for instance, where this could be particularly useful).

The technology's not quite ready for primetime, as evidenced by a slight mishap during part of the UPS test, when a drone stumbled upon liftoff and was nearly crushed as the truck's sliding roof panel closed. Eventually, though, when the technology is considered safe and reliable, UPS hopes to be able to deliver packages beyond line of sight, in order to make the delivery process more efficient with fewer miles driven. They could even do tremendous good, being able to deliver much-needed supplies to places lacking infrastructure. Great Lakes island communities need their milk, and disaster areas need medicine. And while it's not quite as important, getting a flying robot to deliver your favorite, hard-to-find hot sauce to your front porch is pretty cool, too.

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