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New Postal Service fleet could include drones

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New Postal Service fleet could include drones

The Postal Service has winnowed down companies bidding to build the next generation of its delivery vehicles — and one is offering an all-electric truck that doubles as a drone launcher. The agency released its list April 14, and companies include AM General, a contractor perhaps best known for making the Army’s Humvees in the past; Fiat Chrysler Automobiles; Ford (F); and Nissan North America.635652369054042953-042115postal-service-drones

But one of the companies, Workhorse Group (WKHS), is hoping to make an impression by showing that the future could involve drones to deliver packages while mail carriers work their normal routes. The electric delivery truck is called Workhorse while the drone that carries the packages is called HorseFly and is a product of a years-long partnership between the company and the University of Cincinnati, which has an unmanned-vehicle research program.

The Postal Service plans on issuing a request for proposals next month, and the agency then will award several companies a contract to test a prototype. In January 2017, officials say they’ll choose the best from among them. The Postal Service would start receiving and using the vehicles one year later. As a mail carrier begins delivering mail or other packages on an assigned route, the drone delivers a package either on its own or controlled by a pilot remotely to another address a mile or two away, saving the time and allowing the carrier to reach more addresses.

Cutting down on the time needed to complete a route and delivering more packages during that time could save the U.S. Postal Service a lot of time and money, Hughes said. The fifth generation of the HorseFly drone — its most current incarnation — weighs about 15 pounds and can carry a 10-pound package in extendable cages that lock together during flight. The drone can fly up to 50 miles an hour but will spend most of its time flying at about 35 miles an hour, he said. The drone also comes with automatic stabilizers to make flight easier and can dock automatically on top of the truck. It then charges itself using the electricity from the truck.

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