Workhorse Enters Drone-Delivery Market

July 08, 2015 by Carina Ockedahl, @Ockis9

If you thought Google and Amazon were the only ones developing a delivery drone, think again. Workhorse Group is now in the game thanks to its new HorseFly electric unmanned aerial vehicle (UAE), which is designed to deliver parcels faster than conventional methods.

What Is HorseFly?

Workhorse (formerly AMP Electric Vehicles) is an American company based in Loveland, Ohio, and its new UAE, a 30-pound octocopter with a maximum air speed of 50 miles per hour, launches from a truck rather than a warehouse (think: Google and Amazon here) to deliver a package to your home. The goal of the drone is to make the overall operation more efficient by transporting small parcels to locations that are not overly far from the truck, allowing the driver to save time and continue along his or her route.

According to the press release, the HorseFly is capable of carrying as much as 10 pounds for the cost of $.03/mile, “a huge reduction compared to traditional costs of $.50–1.00/mile today.” However, CEO Steve Burns says the actual range and speed of the “bird” depends on the weight it’s carrying. For example, if it’s transporting a five-pound package, it can travel a total of 10 miles: five miles each way.

How It Works

The drone is dispatched by the driver, who gives the UAE a package with a barcode to read. Once this is done, a satellite view of the target location appears on a small tablet mounted to the wall inside the vehicle. The truck operator must then touch the screen to “pinpoint the front step of exactly where the delivery is to be made,” explains Burns. When the machine has completed its task, it then returns to re-mate with the truck, docking on top to recharge with the vehicle’s large battery.

However, not all Americans will be comfortable with the idea of a drone delivering their mail. In this case, Burns reassures us that the HorseFly is only autonomous until the last several hundred feet, when it’s about to descend and drop the package. At this point, a human pilot in a command center guides and lands the UAE where it is most convenient — such as the front doorstep — all the while avoiding dogs and other obstacles with the help of four cameras and a joystick. “We’re putting a human in that last 400 feet just to be sure,” says the CEO.

Launch Date

Workhorse applied for an exemption with the FAA. According to Burns, “Our goal is to be the first to launch. We are on course, we’ve applied for the application, and all exemptions to date are all photography-related. We’re going to be ready when the FAA gives us the green light. We’d like to have [the HorseFly] in this year.”

The Ohio-based company consists of three divisions: truck chassis, commercial EV/E-Gen vehicle, and aerospace — the last of which is collaborating with the University of Cincinnati to conduct outdoor tests with the new drone.

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