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HorseFly Drones Fly to the Future of Delivery Logistics

Have you ever seen a horsefly? Maybe you have. However, there's a new one in the skies that is not an insect.  If you happen to be in the FAA-authorized testing area in the United States, it's the HorseFly drone delivering a package to a remote location. This eight-rotor octocopter is designed to be the last mile solution in delivery logistics.

You may find Horseflies flying around a horse called Workhorse that serves as a mobile base. Steve Burns, CEO of AMP Electric Vehicles explains the HorseFly positions atop a (electric) delivery truck. When ready, the drone opens up its cage, grabs the package, locks itself and scans the package.

Image courtesy: Workhorse

Image courtesy: Workhorse

It uses GPS to compute the “best” route and then flies away. Meanwhile the truck continues to make rounds in a populated area. 

Once at the targeted address, the drone descends to drop off the package, for example, at the doorsteps of a farmhouse miles away from the populated area.  Packaged delivered, the drone zooms back to any truck, re-docks and recharges. Soon, the drone is ready for another package drop-off.

Weighing 15 lbs (6.8 kg) empty, the HorseFly can carry packages up to 10 lbs (4.5 kg). It can achieve a maximum speed of 50 mph (80.46 km/h) and a flight time of 30 minutes.  The truck can travel up to 100 miles (160.93 km). Federal Times created a slideshow on the HorseFly's delivery run.

The HorseFly is the product of small startup Workhorse Group, Inc. (the parent of AMP Electric Vehicles) and the University of Cincinnati.  Workhorse Group received an authorization from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to test the HorseFly at the Ohio/Indiana Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) Center Test Complex. 

One delivery service drone alternative is the DHL Parcelcopter that has been successfully integrated into supply chain.  During the three months trial period that ended in March 2016, private customers in the Baravian community in Reit im Winkl (mountainous regions in Germany) were invited as senders and recipients to test the Parcelcopter Skyport. 

While in the valley, they loaded their packages into the Skyport to initiate automated shipment and delivery by the Parcelcopter at a much higher altitude. The recipients unloaded the package from the Alm station.         .

The DHL Parcelcopter can carry packages up to 2kg and fly up to 70 km/h at a distance up to 8.3 km. It can go as high as 500 meters. The airspeed for the two drones are about the same.  However, the HorseFly can carry heavier packages than the Parcelcopter can.

In April 2015, the Workhorse Group sent a proposal to the US Postal Service (USPS) for electric truck with the HorseFly on its roof. Steve Burns said the company's drone-and-truck combination could cut package delivery times and costs. The mail service has considered alternatives from other companies including drones, gas-powered vans, and battery-powered trucks. 

The USPS isn't the only one looking into the drone delivery service. Amazon plans to launch Prime Air, a drone delivery service by 2017 or 2018.  By that time, HorseFly will have newer technologies, including the ability of its base van to travel longer distances.

The challenge remains to evolve the technology to allow the HorseFly to transport heavier packages between different points in the supply chain in both private and public sectors in the United States – from a warehouse marooned in a disaster area to the truck in a safer area, for example.

How do you think drone delivery will support the electronics industry in the coming years? Let us know in the comments section below.

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