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