Inside a nondescript Loveland building, AMP Electric Vehicles is putting the finishing touches on the electric delivery trucks it’s building for United Parcel Service. The U.S. Post Office might be the next customer.
UPS has ordered 18 of them for its Houston market and AMP CEO Steve Burns is trying to convince them to buy more of the electric trucks.
The electric truck
Burns says these quieter, cleaner trucks do have a higher up-front cost, but cost just $.30 per mile to run compared to $1.00 per mile with gas and maintenance in a regular truck. The battery pack consists of 8,000 Panasonic cells. He says a small gas generator provides a trickle charge.
The drone component
There will be an add-on drone for any company that wants it once commercial drones are approved by the FAA. (UPS does not have the drone, just the electric trucks for its Houston market)
The horsefly drone was developed by AMP electric vehicles and University of Cincinnati researchers. It comes complete with four cameras and eight rotors.
The drone rides on top of the truck but its claw sticks down into the cabin of the truck so the driver can hand it packages. Burns explains the drone is not for all deliveries. "The logistical software or the driver will say, 'hey this house is three miles in the wrong direction. I've got four other deliveries this way, so that's a good one for the horsefly. I'll keep going with the other four and it will catch up with me later.'"
Here's how it works:
- The truck cover rolls back and the drone takes off.
- Guided by GPS, the drone flies at an altitude of 400 feet.
- A certified pilot in a national call center will guide the drone as it's descending.
- After the drop-off, the drone heads back to the truck.
- GPS can get it within three feet of the truck but then an IR camera uses an infrared pattern on top of the truck to guide itself back into the landing bay.
UC and AMP have applied to the FAA for an outside drone test permit. In the meantime, Burns continues marketing just the electric truck part.
The Post Office
AMP is on a short list of finalists as the Post Office looks to replace its entire fleet. AMP responded to a request for proposals with an electric or hybrid truck with an optional drone in the roof. If awarded, Burns says it would be the largest fleet deal in history.