Workhorse Group creates UAV-equipped delivery truck system

By Emily Aasand | July 16, 2015

Workhorse Group Inc. has filed a Section 333 exemption with the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration to deliver packages using its wireless recharging HorseFly octocopter unmanned aircraft vehicle that flies to and from a standard vehicle.

Workhorse has been working with the University of Cincinnati to develop all of the systems necessary to execute precision take-offs and landings on the top of a standard delivery truck in a variety of weather conditions.

“Since our inception, we have focused on providing more energy efficient transportation systems,” said Steve Burns, Workhorse CEO. “The combination of the Horsefly and the Workhorse EV represents a significant improvement in reducing emissions and improving the efficiency of the delivery process.”

“The HorseFly will be positioned atop a delivery truck, awaiting a package from the driver. When loaded, the HorseFly will scan the barcode on the package, determine the path to the delivery address via GPS and fly away—completely self-guided—to the appropriate destination. Meanwhile, the delivery truck will continue on its rounds. After successful delivery, the HorseFly will zoom back to the truck for its next delivery run and, if needed, a roughly two-minute wireless recharge.”

Researchers have used computer models to analyze how unmanned vehicles behave in a dynamic environment, which has allowed them to develop an autonomous controller and put the UAV on autopilot.

“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,” said Kelly Cohen, associate professor of aerospace engineering and engineering mechanics. “There is no textbook on multirotor aircraft design. Here we have been pioneering this effort, and we’ve come up with something successful.”

With this type of UAS use, safety is a number one priority for all parties involved.

“An important part of the HorseFly project is that we make a vehicle that will not drop out of the sky,” Burns said. “This is the particular point that UC specializes in and where we are relying on their expertise to help us build such a safe and resilient craft.”

Burns notes that the UAV can be supported by human pilots in a flight control center if necessary.

Workhorse will be demonstrating the Horsefly capabilities at the NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California, at the end of July.

“The Horsefly is unique, not only because we are seeking to be the first UAS to make deliveries form a truck that is constantly moving to a different location, but because it also takes advantage of the proprietary battery and system technology that Workhorse had developed in-house for our EPA approved  electric work trucks,” said Martin Rucidlo, president of Workhorse.

Paul Orkwis, head of UC’s department of aerospace engineering and engineering mechanics, sees a great potential in this type of technology use. “If you want to get really far-fetched and look into the future, at something like a flying car, that’s possibly what you could be looking at with this.”