back to article UPS & drones: Delivery company launches UAV from truck

Delivery company UPS has become the latest concern to experiment with schlepping stuff about by drone, instead of wheeled vehicles. But UPS isn't interested in sending drones out from its warehouse. Instead, the company's ' experiment saw it launch an unmanned aerial vehicle from one of its familiar big brown trucks, an effort …

  1. Your alien overlord - fear me

    Apart from looking very James Bondish, do any of these 'drones for delivery' companies take into account the appalling weather the UK (and probably Europe) gets from autumn to spring? High winds, rain, snow etc. How's the range with a 30 minute flight time when you're fighting a 30 knot head wind?

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      No, because all these ideas are generated and experimented with in California where, in general, they don't have weather, they have climate.

      (ok not strictly true. Kookie idea come from other places too)

    2. tiggity Silver badge

      30 knot head wind is a light breeze in some parts of the UK!

    3. not.known@this.address Bronze badge
      Mushroom

      Not even that...

      30 minute flight time is there-loiter-back so you need to figure in time taken for the meatsack to get to the door, figure out what the flying buzz-y thing wants, go back to find proof of ID and sign for the contents (hopefully before the drone unlocks the cage!), remove the item(s) and close the cage before the drone can start the return journey so you don't get anywhere near a 30-minute radius.

      Unless they're planning on using something like the Predator/Reaper drone, in which case the accuracy of delivery will be magnitudes better than the current delivery drivers (although there may be slightly higher risk of collateral damage when your Amazon delivery tags a pigeon on its way down...)

      1. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

        Re: Not even that...

        maybe some sort of roof mounted delivery "Cannon" might be in order

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Not even that...

          maybe some sort of roof mounted delivery "Cannon" might be in order

          Projectile parcel delivery in the UK is under a patent pending to company called Yodel, I believe.

          1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
            Mushroom

            Re: Not even that...

            "Projectile parcel delivery in the UK is under a patent pending to company called Yodel, I believe."

            Any patents on projectile delivery will have expired many years ago.

      2. DougS Silver badge

        They don't need to wait for someone to answer the door

        They will use this for packages that don't require a signature. The drivers will typically put down the package, knock / ring the bell, and leave without waiting for anyone to answer. It is just a "courtesy knock" in case you are home so the package doesn't sit out there. The drone can quickly land, release the bottom of the cage, and fly off leaving the package behind, it won't need help. It won't knock, but they aren't exactly quiet so I think you'd hear it if you are home, and if not I suppose it could text you.

        With the drone you'd have some potential options to reduce the chances of a stolen package, i.e. just like you can specify preferred delivery locations now (i.e. side door) you could specify having it leave the package on your deck in back where thieves driving around looking for packages to steal won't see them (unless they see the drone leave it there, but still would be more likely to steal an easier target)

        The other objections to drone deliveries still apply, but needing someone to be home isn't one of those.

  2. 2460 Something
    Black Helicopters

    Coming to a neighbourhood near you soon...

    It won't be long now till instead of being able to relax in one's garden, enjoying the quiet and watching a beautiful sky .. you will have to contend with drones buzzing about everywhere. Time to train up an eagle.

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

      Re: Coming to a neighbourhood near you soon...

      You mean in addition to some neighbour's completely over-the-top SUV being started to great atavistic engine noise every 10 minutes?

    2. W4YBO

      Re: Coming to a neighbourhood near you soon...

      I hope the delivery drones will stick to the airspace above public roads until it reaches its target address.

      Also, I'm curious how the drones deal with powerlines and other small obstacles during low contrast lighting conditions (overcast late afternoon mid-January.) Radar or sonar? Utility pole maps?

      1. DougS Silver badge

        Re: Coming to a neighbourhood near you soon...

        They'd have to have some sort of radar or night vision, because in parts of the northern US it gets dark by 5pm, and UPS delivers well past that time during the holidays.

  3. Black Rat

    Any excuse to throw a parcel over the fence

  4. Dabooka Silver badge
    WTF?

    How's this stuff signed for then?

    Or even dropped off securely?

    Seriously, am I missing something? Is the plan to drop off at these kiosks in supermarkets etc that are popping up? I don't see how this is going to reliably get stuff to me when I'm not outside looking up?!

    1. Necronomnomnomicon

      Re: How's this stuff signed for then?

      Dunno about this one, but for the Amazon tests, you designate a Landing Zone when you order. Your receipt includes a QR code you have to print out and place in your desired LZ. Once the drone gets close enough, it can presumably pick up the QR code and will land on top of it. If it can't find the specific QR code I guess it goes home?

      1. Cuddles Silver badge

        Re: How's this stuff signed for then?

        "Dunno about this one, but for the Amazon tests, you designate a Landing Zone when you order."

        Which doesn't really answer the problem. Telling a drone exactly where in your garden you want a package dumped is not very helpful when the correct answer would be "through the letter box" or "handed to me in person and signed for". It may be a running joke how terrible most delivery companies are at actually knocking on the door and waiting for someone to answer, but at least they're generally capable of doing so at least in theory. With drones, it's simply physically impossible for them to deliver anything in a secure manner.

        1. The Mole

          Re: How's this stuff signed for then?

          Doesn't seem a particularly challenging issue. Delivery drivers often chuck the delivery over the fence anyway so at least the drone beats that by gently landing first. But if you want it signed for then I imagine the drone lands by your front door. Calls your mobile to tell you it is there and then you either sign a screen on the drone (or your deliver firms mobile app) and only then does the delivery cage unlock and give you the content. They could even go as far as requiring a pin to unlock the cage and take photos of the person opening it (and live stream the police of anybody tries to steal the drone/break into the cage).

        2. Necronomnomnomicon

          Re: How's this stuff signed for then?

          It's not impossible. It just moves the security responsibility to you. You can get the delivery in your back garden or another secure location of your choosing. No, if you try and get something delivered in the middle of Piccadilly Circus while you're not paying attention then yes, someone could rob it. But that's on you.

          I'd also point out that the delivery driver doesn't know who you are and doesn't care what your signature looks like. Neither of those are security features. They're audit trails for when your package does go missing. Both of which the drone's camera footage will do the same job of.

          The only limits are things like blocks of flats, or businesses, where you might not have a space you can either monitor or keep secure. Which is, I imagine, a temporary problem. Imagine, if you will, the postboxes being relocated to the roof of the building, and every flat getting a mail chute. Maybe even with a little LCD screen so it can display today's delivery codes.

          Or the drones could do facial recognition. There are lots of ways to add security.

      2. John H Woods Silver badge

        Re: How's this stuff signed for then?

        "Your receipt includes a QR code you have to print out and place in your desired LZ" --- Necronomnomnomicon

        I hope that's quite finely geofenced ... otherwise someone flies their drone over, spots your big LZ QR, photographs it, drops black ink / soot etc on it and then prints out the original somewhere else, like the flatbed of a pickup parked outside your house and then waits for your stuff.

    2. Warren Sealey

      Re: How's this stuff signed for then?

      Forget the problem of signing for the 10lb delivery item! What about the problem of recipients stealing the drone?

      1. DougS Silver badge

        Stealing the drone?

        What stops them is that the drone "phones home" as it goes about its business, and probably has some sort of camera for liability reasons, so it'll be easy to prove you stole it. One capable of lifting 10 lbs and flying 30 minutes costs well over $1000, so stealing it would be a felony.

        To answer your question in another way: the same thing that stops you from stealing the UPS van left running with the keys in it while the driver is at someone's door.

    3. Trigonoceps occipitalis

      Re: How's this stuff signed for then?

      "Or even dropped off securely?"

      Don't worry, once your expensive new tech has been smashed by the fall no one will want to steal it.

  5. sitta_europea

    Never mind the weather, how is it going to get a signature?

  6. nsld

    Client Eastwood....

    "saw it launch an unnamed aerial vehicle"

    Derek, we shall call it Derek the Drone.........

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    whats to stop the drones getting stolen?

    Butterfly net + balaclava - in case the cunning little sods beaming pictures back home

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Imagine the possibilities

    Why should delivery drones be the reserve of couriers? How about peer to peer delivery drones, where you can send parcels yourself to people within the drone's range? I'm thinking of a high tech version of the classic 'flaming paper bag'. A drone, delivering your dog's feces to people you don't like, setting fire to it (surely a trivial task), ringing the doorbell and flying away. Then filming the action from a safe distance. It's the future.

  9. Roj Blake Silver badge

    Sorry You Were Out

    Now the UPS driver can deliver the Sorry You Were Out cards from the comfort of his van.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Sorry You Were Out

      "Now the UPS driver can deliver the Sorry You Were Out cards from the comfort of his van."

      You have hit the nail on the head. I would guess that the costs of failed delivereries are far more significant (and perhaps avoidable) for delivery companies than inconvenient delivery paths. When I order stuff online, immediacy/speed is of far lower importance than knowing exactly when the delivery will occur, or being able to schedule the delivery.

      So my rationale is that drones are the usual solution searching for a problem. Delivery companies would be far better off either committing to specific delivery in a one hour time slot (or less) one or several days ahead with, much as supermarkets book their deliveries. That would require far better systems integration between retailers and the delivery companies, but at the moment there's no obvious appetite to do that, whereas there is appetite to prat around with drones.

      1. Eddy Ito Silver badge

        Re: Sorry You Were Out

        I can't imagine the failed delivery is all that bad since I've had a pair of orders arrive on the same day by different trucks. I had gotten two messages indicating that the packages were on the way about ten minutes apart and since they were from the same UPS center I figured that meant it was the time it was put on the truck but no, they actually came on two different trucks. Oddly the second truck arrived over an hour before the first. In the end, if they can send two trucks to one address in a day it can't be much hassle to send a package out again the next day.

        Frequently if it's something expensive I have it delivered to the nearest UPS store which fortunately for me is about a mile away and I can pick it up on the way home.

      2. Down not across Silver badge

        Re: Sorry You Were Out

        Delivery companies would be far better off either committing to specific delivery in a one hour time slot (or less) one or several days ahead with, much as supermarkets book their deliveries.

        DPD seems to manage that fine. Usually get first an SMS confirming delivery day, and in the morning of delivery day another SMS confirming one hour timeslot.

        Agreed, you don't know the timeslot until on the day, unlike supermarkets where you book a specific slot. It's still excellent and means you can nip out knowing the driver is not hiding around the corner to rush to slip "Sorry we missed you" card (if they bother even that) when you step out for a minute.

  10. Haku

    I see UPS now wants some free advertising after seeing Amazon get theirs.

    /cynic

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