UPS and CyPhy Team Up For Last-Mile Drone Delivery

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With the passing of new legislation allowing for commercial drone usage, American companies are excited to test out their robotic toys, eager to see how they’ll innovate the way we do business. While major logistics companies and retailers such as Amazon, Wal-Mart, and UPS are still unable to employ the technology en masse, UPS and drone manufacturer CyPhy Works are still testing concepts for that inevitable green light. Specifically, the two companies are looking for a way to deliver packages quickly to hard-to-reach areas.

Though having last-mile drone delivery services in America is exciting news, we are still lagging behind other countries who were quicker to embrace commercial drones. German logistics company DHL, for example, has already been testing drone delivery to remote locations earlier this spring, bringing food and medical supplies to residents up in the mountains. One benefit of not being in the forerunner in new technology, however, is that you’re in a position to watch and learn from your competitors’ mistakes.

UPS and CyPhy’s goals are simple: find ways to deliver packages quicker and across inaccessible or otherwise hard-to-reach areas; and scale this technology for widespread use for last-mile drone delivery. Certainly, the main application is to get consumer packages from Point A to Point B in record time (and at low fiscal and carbon costs), but these drones can also be used for humanitarian and emergency efforts as well, dropping off medical and relief supplies quicker than by car and more accurately than simply airdropping from a plane. The American answer to DHL’s Paketkopter: CyPhy’s Persistant Aerial Reconnaissance and Communications vehicle system — or PARC, for short.

A Walk in the PARC

The whole point of commercial drones is to make logistics and the supply chain overall more efficient. Though PARC is equipped for reconnaissance and surveillance across wide ranges, UPS and CyPhy are tricking these drones out to be a last-mile delivery powerhouse. “UPS uniformed employees remain a vital connection to our customers, but [technology like this reveals] a bridge to the future of customer service and urgent package delivery,” UPS Senior VP of Global Engineering and Sustainability Mark Wallace told Supply Chain 24/7. “We are continuously exploring ways to improve our network to efficiently support our customers’ demanding requirements.”

Helen Greiner, CyPhy’s founder and Chief Technology, echoed Wallace’s sentiment: “We’re thrilled to partner with UPS in this endeavor. Drone technology used this way can save lives and deliver products and services to places that are difficult to reach by traditional transit infrastructures.” In addition to PARC, UPS has also been experimenting with drones in their warehouses and distribution centers used to check high storage racks to keep tabs on inventory, to find open slots for more, and to otherwise (literally) oversee their storage facilities.

For a delivery drone, PARC has some mighty impressive specs:

“The PARC system provides high quality, full frame rate, unbroken, High Definition video that no other small or micro UAS can match. The PARC system can accept power input from a variety of AC and DC sources, making it viable for many applications. And become the PARC vehicle is powered from the ground, the flight duration is not limited by battery life. In the event of a power interruption or microfilament failure, the PARC vehicle has an on-board backup battery that will allow the vehicle to safely and autonomously return to its launch site.”

On top of its electronic equipment, the system is known for its “extreme endurance” that allows flights to last days long rather than minutes and up to altitudes of 400 feet. With its nightvision, PARC can easily navigate at night just as it can during the daylight hours. The drone also operates on “fire and forget” principle, meaning that it can autonomously operate, launching itself, hovering, and landing on its own; simply program its destination and it’ll head there as fast as its six propellers can carry it. With secure communications directly connected to the operator via a Ground Control Station (GCS), PARC is also virtually hack- and jam-proof, keeping ne’er do wells from hijacking a drone en route to deliver its payload.

Since we’re on the topic of payloads, the lightweight drone can only carry about five pounds. With that in mind, PARC, as it stands (flys?) is best suited for small deliveries, like emergency medical supplies or otherwise compact consumer goods.


Good Intentions, Great Test Results

To test PARC’s viability “to make a time-critical delivery,” UPS and CyPhy engaged in a mock scenario to carry an asthma inhaler to a child at a camp on Children’s Island from Beverly, Massachusetts. What with the camp being on an island (and given the locale’s geographical definition of being surrounded by water), the child was not reachable by automobile. Needless to say, the test was successful, much to the delight of the two companies.

UPS has increasingly been interested in expanding into similar humanitarian efforts, using its logistics network to deliver not only consumer goods, but emergency aid. “UPS has a history of innovation that reaches back more than a hundred years,” Wallace told Supply Chain 24/7. It also has a fancy new infographic explaining how the logistics company intends on using its innovative technology to impact the world.

While United States Federal legislators have passed regulations allowing commercial drone usage that came into effect this past August, delivery on the scale that companies like UPS, Amazon, and Wal-Mart need is still up for discussion. Though numerous businesses like Domino’s (albeit, in New Zealand) and Chipotle (in partnership with Google) have been testing drone delivery in select markets, it’s only a matter of time before last-mile drone delivery applications spread across the country and the globe.

As the saying goes, the sky really is the limit when it comes to rapid delivery, whether it’s a delicious burrito or a much-needed inhaler.


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