Don't be too nervous if you were in Lithia, Fla., earlier in the week and spotted a UPS truck launching a device from its roof to a nearby blueberry farm. It was all part of a test of a new drone-delivery feature the company hopes to bring to residential areas, Consumerist reports. The Workhorse Group's HorseFly unit—which can buzz along for about a half-hour, carrying packages that don't exceed 10 pounds—traveled a quarter-mile or so from the truck to the farm, dropped off its package, then circled back to find the UPS truck, on its way to a new destination. TechCrunch reviewed the test runs and said the process "still needs work," noting that interference caused one launch to be aborted. Reuters reports the experiment followed on the tail of a UPS announcement that automation and new technology were high on the company's priority list.
Mark Wallace, a UPS senior VP, explains to Consumerist that rural areas could be a particularly viable place for the truck-launched drones, as a truck could settle in the middle of a "triangular delivery route" and send the drone to different destinations. Another UPS exec, John Dodero, tells Reuters that there's no set timeline for getting the drones into wider circulation because federal regulations are in flux. FAA rules, for example, currently require commercial drones to stay in operators' view, and they can only buzz over their operators, not other people. (Inc. notes the risk to those below if the drone malfunctions and drops the package.) One thing Dodero can speak clearly to: "UPS is never looking to replace our UPS drivers," he tells Reuters. (Amazon has also been experimenting with drone delivery.)