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HorseFly delivery drone would use a van as its base-on-the-go


June 6, 2014

The HorseFly octocopter could charge its battery and pick up packages from a mobile delivery van (Photo: Kelly Cohen)

The HorseFly octocopter could charge its battery and pick up packages from a mobile delivery van (Photo: Kelly Cohen)

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When Amazon announced its plan to use drones for home deliveries, a lot of people were quick to point out the huge logistical challenges involved. Among those is the fact that a multicopter's limited battery range would make it rather difficult for just one or two Amazon warehouses to serve an entire city. A team from the University of Cincinnati and AMP Electric Vehicles, however, may have a solution. They've created an octocopter that could make short flights from a traveling delivery van, using that van as a mobile charging station and package depot.

The UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) is known as the HorseFly, as it would be paired to a larger ground-based vehicle in the same way that a horsefly buzzes around one particular horse. That vehicle would be one of AMP's WorkHorse electric delivery vans.

Drivers would make deliveries by road as usual, but they would also periodically stop to load their HorseFly up with individual packages. Located on top of the truck, the UAV would scan the package's barcode to get its drop-off location, determine the best route to that address, and then take off. The idea is that none of the addresses would be particularly far from where the van was heading anyway.

The driver would then continue making their own deliveries, without waiting for the UAV to return. Once it had made its delivery, the HorseFly would use GPS to determine the van's current location, and then proceed to meet back up with it there. The driver could then give it another package, or let it wirelessly recharge its battery for two minutes if needed.

Along with its autonomous control system that can compensate for variables such as wind gusts, the HorseFly would also utilize its multiple hardware redundancies to keep from crashing down onto people below in the event of a malfunction. It would additionally be possible for a human operator to pilot it by remote control via its onboard cameras, if the need arose.

Source: University of Cincinnati

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away. All articles by Ben Coxworth

I predict a new kite flying sport around bringing down the horsefly. Of course there will anti-collision precautions, but that is all part of the sport. If having horsefly means that I cannot fly a kite, then I say we do not really need drone deliveries.


@ zooeyjfp (Quote: If having horsefly means that I cannot fly a kite, then I say we do not really need drone deliveries. ); I hope you are not one of these dills that teach their kids to "try" and fly kites in built up areas. Only to entangle the kite in power or phone lines, so all whom travel past get to think; Who was the dickhead that tried that?

From a keen kite flyer and ex delivery driver; If flying kites in built up areas, stops drone delivery technology (like Horsefly) advancing, then I say no to kite flying.

I personally think drone delivery, including the Horsefly is a great idea, however I do still have concerns about how you guarantee delivery to the right person and the safety of the people being delivered too. Depending on the cargo of course, but for more precious or personal cargo, normally when a delivery is made, someone has to sign for it to (1) recognize someone is there and the package has been collected, and (2) hopefully the right person has received the package.

Then there is the personal safety, of the people being delivered too; Man I have met some complete dills in my time, and for sure, someone is going to get their fingers in the way of those rotators (maybe to get their kite string out). How do you guarantee the drone is clear for takeoff/landing??? I can just imagine a recording in a Mr T voice, being played out on speaker; Hay "fool", get out of the way, I am coming in!!! Hay "fool", get out of the way, I am taking off!!!

Ooo, and then there is the matter of the door bell; I never see any sign of a finger attached to these drones, for ringing the door bells!!!!! Who's going to ring the door bell??? Again Mr T??? Hay "fool" your package is here!!!!! ????


Congrats on the implementation, but the idea was there even before Bezos made his famous announcement (including by yours truly). I'm commenting only because of the silly idea that the drone has to be idle while the battery charges. Swappable batteries anyone?

Also, delivery routes are already, in 2014, mapped by computer. Adding the drone (or several drones) into the mix just means there will be a predetermined point in the route when the drone can go and some anticipation of where the van will be when rendezvous can be made. Having a driver is... almost optional.

AND, we've only just begun.

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