United Parcel Service (UPS) has conducted a test delivery in which an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) launched from the top of a delivery truck and carried a package in a residential area.

The UAV, manufactured by Ohio-based Workhorse Group, delivered a package in Lithia, Florida, and then returned to the truck, which had continued on its way to another delivery. UPS said the test was successful.

“This test is different than anything we’ve done with drones so far,” UPS SVP-global engineering and sustainability Mark Wallace said in a statement. “It has implications for future deliveries, especially in rural locations where our package cars often have to travel miles to make a single delivery. Imagine a triangular delivery route where the stops are miles apart by road. Sending a drone from a package car to make just one of those deliveries can reduce costly miles driven. This is a big step toward bolstering efficiency in our network and reducing our emissions at the same time.”

Atlanta-based UPS noted that rural delivery brings added costs because of the distance drivers must travel. CFO Richard Peretz recently explained that UPS is carrying “historic levels” of business-to-consumer (B2C) cargo as a result of booming e-commerce activity. B2C deliveries are generally less lucrative and more costly than business-to-business (B2B) deliveries. Many B2C deliveries are also going to rural areas; B2B deliveries are generally urban-oriented and often clustered together.

Wallace said the test demonstrated the “potential for drones to aid drivers at various points along their routes, helping them save time and deliver on increasing customer service needs that stem from the growth of e-commerce.”

UPS said the Workhorse octocopter UAV docks on the roof of a delivery truck. “A cage suspended beneath the drone extends through a hatch into the truck,” the company explained. “A UPS driver inside loads a package into the cage and presses a button on a touch screen, sending the drone on a preset autonomous route to an address.”

The UAV is battery-powered and recharges while it is docked on the truck. It can fly for up to 30 minutes and carry a package weighing up to 10 lbs.

Aaron Karp aaron.karp@penton.com