Research on HorseFly package delivery system gets FAA approval

By Patrick C. Miller | October 22, 2015

Continued research on the HorseFly package delivery system being developed by Workhorse Group Inc. and the University of Cincinnati (UC) has been approved under a certificate of authorization (COA) issued by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

The COA was granted to the Ohio/Indiana UAS Center and Test Complex for additional research on a project combining an electric truck and an unmanned aerial system (UAS) for package delivery. Testing of HorseFly will take place at the Wilmington Air Park in Wilmington, Ohio.

"Obtaining this authorization from the FAA is a vital step forward in making our HorseFly drone a practical component of our package delivery system by testing the drone's unmanned flying capabilities,” said Steve Burns, Workhorse CEO. “We believe the pairing of the HorseFly drone and the Workhorse electric vehicle may usher in a significant improvement in reducing emissions and improving the efficiency of the delivery process."

The collaboration between UC's College of Engineering and Applied Science and the Ohio/Indiana UAS Center led to sponsorship of the two-year FAA authorization from the Ohio State Department of Transportation, as well as priority access to the Wilmington Air Park.

"Workhorse Group is among a select few world-class leaders working to create the UAS revolution by demonstrating its advantages for a better future,” said Paul Orkwis, head of aerospace engineering at UC. “We believe the HorseFly program represents a major innovation in this arena."

Workhorse is developing its HorseFly UAS—an eight-rotor octocopter—in tandem with its EPA-approved electric work trucks. Weighing 15 pounds empty, HorseFly has a payload capacity of 10 pounds. Flying at a maximum speed of 50 mph, it has 30 minutes of flight endurance.

Workhorse teamed with the university through the UC Research Institute (UCRI) to develop the systems needed for precision takeoffs and landings atop a standard delivery truck in a variety of weather conditions and with varying package weights.

The HorseFly UAS, which has not yet been approved by the FAA for commercial use, is given a package delivery destination by the truck driver using a touchscreen interface in the vehicle. The UAS launches itself from the truck’s roof, climbs to a safe cruising altitude and then autonomously navigates to the delivery point using GPS navigation.

A pilot in a remote location monitors the drone’s descent with a multi-camera video feed to complete the package drop-off. The HorseFly then navigates to the truck’s new location using infrared tracking to land and dock with the truck where it can recharge its battery.

According to Workhorse, the system’s benefits include saving time and money by not requiring the driver to physically deliver each package and lowering emissions by reducing the truck’s number of stops, resulting in cleaner air.


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