Take an electric delivery truck, add wireless charging on top, and a drone that can carry four and a half kilograms for 30 minutes, and you have the perfect package delivery system. At least that’s what the Workhorse Group thinks. Last week, the company filed paperwork with the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration asking for permission to deliver packages by drone. This week, it demonstrated the drone part of its technology at UTM 2015, a three-day convention focused on Unmanned Aerial System Traffic Management. The event is being held at the NASA Ames Research Center (see video, above).
The idea, explains Martin Rucidlo, company president, is for the operator of the delivery truck to make the normal rounds, but send the drone off to handle the less convenient deliveries. The drone gets most of the way to the delivery site by navigating autonomously after scanning a barcode for GPS coordinates, but when it gets ready to descend, it turns on cameras and alerts the operator, who monitors the descent, watching out for dogs, children, or other potential hazards, and stands ready to take control. The drone then returns itself to the truck, which has continued to travel along its delivery route. The drone lands itself automatically and precisely on the charging pad. That’s not easy to do, Rucidlo said. But he believes that the company has found a solution that will work even in windy conditions.
Tekla S. Perry is a senior editor at IEEE Spectrum. Based in Palo Alto, Calif., she's been covering the people, companies, and technology that make Silicon Valley a special place for more than 40 years. An IEEE member, she holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from Michigan State University.