Workhorse continues R&D on Horsefly package delivery system

By Patrick C. Miller | February 11, 2016

Workhorse Group Inc. is pushing ahead with research and development on a package delivery system that combines an electric delivery truck with an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) called the Horsefly.

Martin Rucidlo, president of Workhorse Aerospace in Loveland, Ohio, said the company tested its UAV at the Lone Star UAS Test Site in Corpus Christie, Texas, during December and January. He said Workhorse expects to do at least six more months of testing. The company is working on the project with the University of Cincinnati Research Institute and the Ohio/Indiana UAS Center, conducting R&D at the Wilmington (Ohio) Air Park.

“Precision landing is probably the most difficult task at this point,” Rucidlo said. “Everything else is a development process, but there aren’t any showstoppers in that process. We’re testing the system in adverse weather conditions, with multiple package weights and in other types of conditions.”

Workhorse is developing its HorseFly UAS—an eight-rotor octocopter—in tandem with its EPA-approved electric work trucks. Weighing 15 pounds empty, HorseFly has a payload capacity of 10 pounds. Flying at a maximum speed of 50 mph, it has 30 minutes of flight endurance.

“Because we’re combining it with a truck, we can stay within line of sight; we can never be more than about three miles from the launch location,” Rucidlo said. “That’s still a very positive economic model because you’re not driving a traditional fossil fuel truck that costs over a dollar a mile to operate. You’re reducing the number of miles you have to move that 20,000 pound vehicle down the road by utilizing the UAS for specific package drops.”

The Horsefly is given a package delivery destination by the truck driver using a touchscreen interface in the vehicle. The UAS launches itself from the truck’s roof, climbs to a safe cruising altitude and then autonomously navigates to the delivery point using GPS navigation.

A pilot in a remote location monitors the drone’s descent with a multi-camera video feed to complete the package drop-off. The HorseFly then navigates to the truck’s new location using infrared tracking to land and dock with the truck where it can recharge its battery.

“We’ve tested the Horsefly in windy conditions by launching it from the truck, having the package delivered to a location and then having it return to the truck when it’s in a new location. We are pleased with how it’s performing,” Rucidlo said.

Unlike the unmanned aerial systems (UAS) for package delivery proposed by Amazon and Google which originate flights from distribution centers within range of a customer, the Workhorse system enables the truck and UAV to deliver a package within line of sight of the truck. Rucidlo believes deliveries in less-populated rural areas will likely be the first commercial application the FAA allows.

“We look at this as the right path to get to where you will eventually be utilizing deliveries like Amazon envisions,” Rucidlo explained. “We just think there are a few steps in between before that actually happens. And we believe we have the steps for that solution for in between.”

Rucidlo also noted that Workhorse has submitted a proposal to the U.S. Postal Service for its next generation delivery vehicle. He said the company’s proposed electric delivery vehicle also includes an optional provision for UAS delivery.

 

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