Most of the 15 manufacturers bidding to rebuild the USPS truck fleet fall under the “usual suspects” label: AM General, Fiat Chrysler (FCAU), Ford (F), and Nissan among them. These trucks are expected to cost anywhere from $25,000 to $35,000 apiece, and should be drivable for 20 years — with the ability to incorporate upgrades over that lifespan. USPS plans to buy 180,000 of them, so the trucks alone could cost USPS as much as $6.3 billion.
Adding to that cost, though, USPS has admitted one quirky company to its competition, which features the addition of “drone” technology to its truck. The company in question: tiny startup Workhorse Group, whose electric “Workhorse” truck carries a “HorseFly” drone on its roof to aid in package delivery.
HorseFly is said to weigh 15 pounds, and to be able to dart out and deliver 10-pound packages at speeds of up to 50 mph before returning to base. The idea is that upon entering a neighborhood, a mail carrier would deliver most packages by the usual procedure, tooling around the neighborhood at 15 mph, making dropoffs in each mailbox.
But for outlying locations — say, a lone farmhouse off the beaten track, but just a few miles from a well-populated neighborhood — the mail carrier would save himself a trip. He’d load a package onto HorseFly and send it off on its own while he finished the neighborhood route. Package delivered, HorseFly would fly back, intercept the mail truck, land on the truck roof, recharge, and get ready to be reloaded for another dropoff.
The Future of Package Delivery
As you can see, this isn’t a revolutionary solution to USPS’s difficulties. One drone per truck, and that drone only carrying one package at a time on miles-long round trips, won’t make a huge dent in the average postal carrier’s workload. But it could save driving time, save on fuel costs, and save on wear-and-tear on the truck — all big contributors to USPS’s ongoing fiscal deficit.
These benefits might intrigue USPS enough to at least give Workhorse a trial run, even if the big contract goes to one of Detroit’s more established automakers. Crazy as drone delivery might sound for USPS, they’ve come up with crazier ideas before.