Workhorse* founder and CEO Steve Burns is much like Elon Musk — he prefers catchy names for his products. The company’s autonomous unmanned delivery drone could have been called the XP101B or something equally boring. Instead, it is called the HorseFly, a much more memorable moniker that captures part of the company name and melds it with the drone’s mission, which is to fly packages from a delivery van to their final destination.
“Last mile delivery” is a phrase on everyone’s lips these days. The rise of online shopping by such companies as Amazon and Alibaba means there are more package delivery vans on the road than ever before. Maximum delivery efficiency with minimum fuel costs are vital objectives for the delivery industry.
And those are precisely the benefits the HorseFly from Workhorse provides. The company has begun a pilot program in the Cincinnati area with the approval of the FAA. “We feel this is a game-changing moment to innovate the way packages are delivered for many years to come,” says Steve Burns, Workhorse. “By not only reducing the expense of last mile delivery, but also providing the consumer with the ability to opt-in, visualize, and confirm their package delivery on their property, we have re-imagined home delivery.”
Here’s how it works. The driver loads a package into the drone compartment built into the roof of a delivery van. With the touch of a button, the drone undocks itself and flies to the delivery address. The customer can set a point on the property where the package is to be delivered and actually monitor the delivery process from a camera mounted on the drone via an smartphone app.
After delivering the package, the HorseFly drone flies itself back to the delivery van, parks itself, and begins recharging from the vehicle’s electrical system so that it will be ready for the next delivery. During the pilot program, the drone will always be within sight of the driver, but eventually, the driver will be able to proceed along the delivery route, knowing the HorseFly will catch up later.
The delivery vans used in the Cincinnati pilot program are conventional large trucks like the plug-in hybrid electric vehicles from Workhorse that are undergoing testing by UPS and WB Mason, but the company’s new compact N-Gen electric delivery van can also be outfitted with the HorseFly system.
If you think the HorseFly is cool, then there’s a good chance you’ll also find Workhorse’s SureFly tickles your fancy. The SureFly is a personal helicopter (or “vertical take-off and landing” aircraft) from these electric vehicle entrepreneurs. It was approved for test flights a few months ago around the time that the HorseFly was debuted at CES 2018. Workhorse is actually in the process of spinning off this division — however, “at the time of the spin off, Workhorse expects to enter into a transition services agreement with SureFly, Inc to provide certain engineering and accounting services not anticipated to be provided immediately by employees of SureFly, Inc.”
Back to drones, there are plenty of other electric drones out there and countless pilot projects underway. We cover what pops out to us (see our full drones archives). However, there is something especially exciting about a company that’s delivery products via plug-in van or truck + electric drone. In that regard, Workhorse seems to still be in a league of its own.
*Note: The author owns shares of Workhorse common stock.