With the race to be the first to deliver packages via an unmanned drone heating up, global shipping company United Parcel Service Inc. (UPS) successfully tested a drone this week that was able to deliver a package to a customer.

On Monday, UPS tested a drone that launched from the top of a UPS package car, delivered a package to a customer’s home in Lithia, Fla., and  then returned to the vehicle that had continued along a route to make a different delivery. The test was conducted along with Workhorse Group Inc. (WKHS​), an Ohio company that makes electric trucks and drones. Workhorse developed the drone and the electric UPS package car that was used in the test. (See also: Amazon Takes to the High Seas.)

“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 said in a statement announcing the successful test. While UPS used a custom-built electric car in the test, the goal is to develop drones that could launch off of any vehicle, gas powered or electric. In the future, UPS envisions a day when a driver could simply click a button on a screen and send a drone off to do some of the deliveries. That would improve delivery times and help drivers stuck in traffic or who are behind on their deliveries, not to mention help delivery packages in hard-to-reach areas or places where its trucks can’t fit down narrow roads.

Not Its First Drone Test

This test isn’t the first foray into drones for UPS, which focused its early experiments on using drones for humanitarian needs and remote location deliveries. Last September, UPS staged a mock delivery of medical supplies from Beverly, Mass., to an island three miles off the Atlantic coast and has also used drones to deliver blood and vaccines to remote locations in Rwanda. The deliver company also used drones to check inventory on high storage shelves in its warehouses.

In Monday’s test, UPS used the Workhorse HorseFLY UAV Delivery system, which is a high-efficiency, octocopter delivery drone that has been integrated into Workhorse’s line of electric and hybrid delivery trucks. The drone sits on a dock on the roof of the truck while a cage suspended under the drone extends through a hatch in the truck. The driver loads the package in the cage, presses a button on a touch screen and the drone and its package are sent on their way on a preset autonomous route. The drone recharges while it is docked and can fly for 30 minutes carrying packages that weigh as much as 10 pounds. 

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