UPS Is Testing Drone Deliveries Launched From Trucks

After first testing the idea of using drones to deliver packages to extra remote locations, UPS is making its move into more residential skies with octocopters that can be launched from roving trucks.

The company says it successfully tested the HorseFly drone yesterday in Lithia, FL, along with the company that built both the drone and the electric UPS vehicle that launches it, Workhorse Group.

The drone docks on the roof of the delivery truck, and a cage suspended beneath it extends through a hatch into the vehicle. A driver on the inside loads a package into the cage, presses a button on a touch screen, and sends the drone flying on a preset autonomous route to its destination.

The battery-powered HorseFly drones recharge during docking, and have a 30-minute flight time limit, carrying a package weighing up to 10 pounds.

For this test, UPS launched the vehicle from the roof of a truck about a quarter mile away to a blueberry farm. The octocopter delivered its payload at a home on the property and then flew back to the truck, which had moved down the road to allow its driver to make another delivery.

UPS says the system is different from its other drone work thus far, and could make the company’s network more efficient while reducing emissions.

“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. “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.”

As always with these tests, it’s worth noting are still obstacles to drone deliveries: Federal Aviation Administration regulations don’t allow commercial drones to fly over any humans not involved in operating them, and requires them to stay within line of sight of their pilots at all times — something drivers could ostensibly do from their trucks in this case, depending on how far away the destination is.

UPS, FedEx Already Struggling During Deluge Of Holiday Deliveries

One might think that after years of online shopping growing in popularity that major shipping carriers would finally be prepared for the Big Show, also known as the holiday season. And yet here we are again, heading into crunch time, and UPS and FedEx are having trouble keeping up with all those packages.

Though the shipping companies expected a lot of online orders as usual, they weren’t expecting quite this many, reports The Wall Street Journal. UPS had been expecting to handle a record of more than 700 million packages, a 14% increase from last year, while FedEx predicted a 10% bump.

To cope with the onslaught, UPS has relocated hundreds of employees from its headquarters and other corporate offices to pitch in at hubs that are overwhelmed with record demand, a person familiar with the matter told the WSJ.

Before the holiday season even started, both UPS and FedEx beefed up their seasonal staff and tried to prepare by extending some delivery windows, temporarily dropping delivery guarantees and refunds for some weeks, and stopped promising to deliver express packages by a certain time.

That didn’t help much, as analysts say on-time delivery rates for both carriers were down a bit in the weeks after Thanksgiving, compared to their average rates for the rest of the year: on-time delivery rates for UPS Ground fell to 96.3% last week, while FedEx Ground sank to 96.9%.

The good news? That’s up from last year’s average rates of 95% for FedEx and UPS during the same period in 2015, but down from the 98%-99% rate during the rest of the year, according to ShipMatrix Inc.

Air shipments weren’t as consistent either, with UPS Express delivering on time 90.6% of the time and FedEx Express delivering on-time 93.7%.

FedEx told the WSJ that the company is continuing to work closely with its largest peak customers and is increasing hours for some employees to meet demand, while UPS says it’s faced some issues this year that have held up some deliveries.

“A small percentage of packages have experienced some delay related to weather, wildfires or some operational challenges,” a UPS spokeswoman told the WSJ.

The source of all this trouble is, once again, e-commerce, which this year made up 25% of consumer spending on Black Friday and the two days leading up to it, a surge from last year’s 18% figure, and almost double the number for the same period in 2012.

Will all this trouble mean FedEx and UPS will be better prepared next year? Maybe, but as long as online shopping continues to grow in popularity, it will remain difficult to predict volume, one logistics consultancy expert tells the WSJ.

“Until this trend shows any sort of stabilization, the carriers—I don’t care how good they are—are going to have a tough time trying to figure out where to allocate their resources in order to keep up with demand,” he said.

UPS Will Now Let Customers Follow Packages Out For Delivery In Real Time

No more wondering what your package gets up to while it’s out for delivery — did it stop for a drink and miss its connecting flight? — with a new service UPS is rolling out that allows customers to track their shipments in the final stage, from one second to the next.

“Follow My Delivery” will roll out first for pricier UPS Air and UPS Worldwide Express deliveries as part of the UPS My Choice program, the company announced. Which means yes, if you want to use it, you’ll have to sign up (for free). Though it’s limited to just those two kinds of deliveries for now, UPS plans to expand the new feature to more services in the future.

Customers will be able to see the UPS driver’s truck on a live map, but you won’t be able to see the vehicle’s route, since that would be weird and stalkerish. Again, this is only while the vehicle is out for delivery.

UPS My Choice members also have the ability to re-route packages to their workplace or a neighbor’s house if they’re not going to be home when their shipment is supposed to arrive.