Forget Amazon And Google! The Workhorse Truck Could Be First To Use Drones To Deliver Packages
Steve Burns has a big vision: he wants all of our mail and packages to be delivered by electric trucks with drone capabilities. As co-founder and CEO of Workhorse Group Inc., he’s well on the road to bringing his vision to life, and because of the FAA’s current “line of sight” requirement for using drones, his company could be the first actually delivering packages by air.
A lifelong innovator, Burns previously founded technology companies developing mobile photo and video sharing, speech recognition software, and more. In 2007, he helped create Workhorse (then known as AMP Electric Vehicles), as a developmental-stage vehicle electrification company. Initially they experimented with adding battery-electric power to two-seat roadsters. By 2010, he’d pivoted away from passenger vehicles and began focusing on electrifying commercial vehicles. AMP acquired the Workhorse brand (WKHS) and their assembly plant in Indiana in March 2013. They formally changed the company name to Workhorse in April 2015.
What makes Workhorse’s trucks so special? Patent-pending and EPA-approved, the E-GEN trucks are propelled by an electric motor/generator built with nearly 6,000 Panasonic lithium-ion cells — the same type of cells used in Tesla’s electric cars. It is powerful enough to eliminate the need for a transmission and, if the battery state-of-charge falls below a predetermined level, a small internal combustion engine automatically turns on and powers the motor to recharge the battery to its required level when the vehicle is in park. No need for the driver to look for the nearest recharging station while making deliveries!
“Our goal isn’t to reinvent the wheel — it’s to power it differently,” quips Burns. “We are committed to finding the best solutions for both energy efficiency and emissions, and we believe our electric trucks can be part of the answer. If we can help delivery companies reduce their fuel costs while maintaining or improving their service, we’ve done our job.”
The company has already sold 125 Workhorse E-GEN vehicles to UPS. These deliver a 400 percent increase in fuel economy over gasoline-powered delivery trucks — and are expected to be deployed in seven states during the first half of 2016. In October, UPS announced it had purchased an additional 18 Workhorse trucks to be deployed in the Houston-Galveston area in Texas as the result of a partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy, local governments and non-profits. Now, Workhorse is one of 15 companies competing for the Next Generation Delivery Vehicle acquisition program to replace the USPS’ aging fleet of 180,000 mail trucks.
But Workhorse is not just leveraging electric vehicle technology. The company is also poised to be a pioneer in the drone delivery business — potentially giving USPS and delivery companies an edge there as well.
Workhorse is developing its own UAV — an “octocopter” called HorseFly™ — with a 10-pound payload capacity, which can be used in conjunction with their vehicles. “Given a package and a delivery destination, it lifts off from the vehicle roof, navigates to an address using GPS, and is guided down safely by a human pilot in a remote location. It then returns to the truck roof for recharging,” Burns explains. In July, Workhorse filed an exemption with the Federal Aviation Administration, requesting approval to be the first company to deliver packages with a truck-based drone. “We hope to begin testing the delivery of packages via HorseFly outside of our test area in Ohio by the end of 2015,” Burns says.
This is exciting news for drone enthusiasts. “Nobody has yet developed a truck-launched drone that meets the current line-of-sight restriction set by the FAA,” Burns notes. “From what we can surmise, Amazon and Google will have to wait until the FAA relaxes the line-of-sight rule to accommodate their drones, while we at Workhorse are already able to conform with current regulations. In the future, when we can get past the line-of-sight restriction and when the FAA is comfortable, then the flying of our drones could be overseen by someone in a control center.”
So: will we see drones dropping off mail in the near future? That will depend a lot on the FAA, but with Workhorse vehicles, even the post office may be jumping into the drone delivery game sooner than we think. This development could give Amazon and Google a flight for their money.
This article was written by Kate Harrison from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.