United Parcel Service sees a day when your latest purchase may be dropped off not by a brown-clad delivery driver, but by an octocopter drone.
The world’s largest courier took a step closer to that future on Monday, launching an unmanned aerial vehicle from the roof of a UPS truck about a quarter-mile to a blueberry farm outside Tampa, Florida. The drone dropped off a package at a home on the property, and returned to the truck, which had moved about 2,000 feet.
The test shows how UPS is looking to drones as a way to cut costs and ease delivery in hard-to-reach places. Deploying the aircraft in rural areas -- where the distance between stops drives up fuel and labor costs -- is one of the more promising applications.
“Drones won’t replace our uniformed service providers,” says Mark Wallace, UPS’s senior vice president of global engineering and sustainability. “That’s key, but in this case, it really is there to assist.”
Monday’s trial was the clearest indication that Atlanta-based UPS wants to use drones for home delivery, as do internet retailer Amazon.com Inc. and Google parent Alphabet Inc. Those companies and others still must overcome significant regulatory hurdles before delivery-by-drone becomes the norm.
UPS says it hasn’t calculated how much the potential shift could help cut costs, but estimates in general that reducing each driver’s mileage by a mile a day could save $50 million a year. The company operates more than 100,000 road vehicles, according to its website.