Vans have been a staple of the delivery game for decades, and we are starting to see how they might be mixed with a potential staple of the delivery future. Electric vehicle maker Workhorse is the latest company to build a courier van that launches a drone from its roof for last-mile journeys, a combination that could improve traffic, pollution and make for more efficient deliveries.
The new truck, dubbed the N-Gen, follows in the footsteps of similar vehicles currently being trialed by Mercedes-Benz and global shipping giant UPS. The latter of those was actually developed in collaboration with Workhorse, with a view to using the drones to handle out-of-the-way drop-offs while the driver continues making other deliveries by road. UPS says that cutting a driver's route by just one mile (1.6 km) per day would save the company up to US$50 million a year.
And now Workhorse, which revealed its first electric pickup truck earlier in the year and is set to show off its SureFly personal Octocopter at CES in January, has built a van-drone system that is entirely its own.
The van itself is electric with a lightweight composite body, will travel 100 mi (160 km) on each charge and comes with an optional gasoline range extender for an extra 75 mi (120 km) worth of juice. The HorseFly delivery drone launches from the roof, can carry packages of up to 10 lb (4.5 kg) and is said to comply with all Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations.
To that end, it will only delivery packages within the driver's line of sight, which let's be honest, doesn't seem all that useful. But the US does seem headed toward more drone-friendly regulations, with the Department of Transportation last week announcing a research project to evaluate drones that fly beyond the line of sight, among other operations, which would be a boon for those looking into delivery applications.
We'd hazard a guess that Workhorse had an eye on this future with the development of its N-Gen van, but it seems it won't be waiting until then to put it through its paces.
"The new N-Gen platform represents a new day for last-mile delivery," says Stephen Burns, CEO of Workhorse. "With agreements now in place to test and operate N-Gen vehicles in several cities across the United States, Workhorse continues to be on the front edge of transformative innovation in the commercial transportation sector."
The N-Gen van can be seen in the (very short) video below.