Not be outdone by the Swiss the U.S. Postal Service has announced it is currently fielding bids from unmanned aerial vehicle manufacturers. The scope of the project seems to be greater than what the Swiss are doing as the project looks to develop new vehicles and delivery methods for its fleet.
In addition to the usual commercial manufacturers an interesting outsider has made its latest shortlist of 16 companies – a unique octocopter drone designed and built by The University of Cincinnati College of Engineering and Applied Science, and developed by UAV builder Workhorse Group, Inc.
The proposed delivery system is fairly radical. It is based around a ‘base’ van – called ‘WorkHorse’ – with an attached drone – called ‘HorseFly’. HorseFly is an eight-rotored UAV which can wirelessly recharge itself in just two minutes, using the base van as a power source.
The system involves the self-sufficient drone scanning the barcode of a package before using GPS to calculate the best route from the van to the address.
The key aspect of the idea is that the short distance between the van and delivery deals with the most prominent concerns raised in the last few years regarding the viability of delivery drones making relatively long flights over populated areas.
“Our premise with HorseFly is that the HorseFly sticks close to the horse,” Workhorse CEO Steve Burns stated last year “If required, the HorseFly will wirelessly recharge from the large battery in the WorkHorse truck. The fact that the delivery trucks are sufficiently scattered within almost any region during the day makes for short flights, as opposed to flying from the warehouse for each delivery,”
Despite lagging behind places the the United Kingdom, Canada and Switzerland The Federal Aviation Authority is expected to unveil a catch-up framework for drone use in the commercial sector this year. The agency still seems to have ongoing concerns about self-controlled drones meaning that HorseFly has an extra hurdle to overcome with respect to bidders from other more established markets.
Kelly Cohen, associate professor of aerospace engineering at UC, remarked “With the HorseFly project, we developed a brand-new aircraft and airframe from scratch, and we built the system with the ability to look into different applications. Now we can build a family of octorotors and find out the best possible configuration. There is no textbook on multirotor aircraft design. Here we have been pioneering this effort, and we've come up with something successful,”