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USPS investigating drone delivery options

Postal Service to change delivery times for first class parcels (Photo: iStock )

The U.S. Postal Service (USPS) wants feedback from drone operators that could provide drone capability to the agency as it looks to advance its mail delivery fleet.

In a request for information filed on September 23, USPS – an independent agency within the federal government that receives no taxpayer money for operations – said it isn’t planning on awarding a contract but is merely seeking market information as it considers future requirements.

“Based on the level of interest from the industry, [USPS] may identify candidates for a future solicitation to develop the Postal Service’s UAS [unmanned aircraft systems] operations and demonstrate the necessary reliability and safety of unmanned aircraft technology,” the agency stated. “The Postal Service recognizes the potential benefits that UAS can provide to our operations and customers and that the program can accelerate the adoption and safety of UAS operations in the United States.”

The initiative could also be evidence of the agency’s attempt to keep pace with Google, FedEx, UPS and Amazon – all of which are advancing their own drone capabilities and partnerships – and continue to compete heavily for USPS’ last-mile market share.

The agency’s drone operations, to be regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), will support various missions, including “Long Driveway Delivery,” in which a launches from vehicle, makes a delivery and returns to the vehicle while the delivery truck continues on its route, according to the proposal. USPS is also considering a “Ride-Sharing Model” where customers can access the agency’s drone fleet for business-to-customer delivery.

“Successful and competent testing will lead to limited testing in real-world delivery environments identified by USPS and with the consent of FAA and local governments,” the agency stated. “The overall testing goal is to bring a valued and safe service to the United States that is expandable and sustainable.”

USPS said it is considering drones on delivery routes that are costly to operate and would therefore provide the most benefit for drone deployment. It plans to operate drones a minimum of eight continuous hours per day over hilly terrain, water, semi-improved roads, and eventually over city streets. The initial plan calls for drones making an average four flights and deliveries per day of mail and packages and using as many as three per hour, according to the proposal.

In addition to providing mail delivery services, the agency also wants to use UAS systems as a way to collect geospatial and sensor data to create “useful three-dimensional mapping for use in autonomous vehicle initiatives,” the agency stated. USPS and self-driving truck startup TuSimple announced plans earlier this year to test USPS long-haul trailers between Phoenix, Arizona, and Dallas, Texas.

Proposal submissions must be received no later than November 4 and submitted via email to: [email protected]

John Gallagher

Based in Washington, D.C., John specializes in regulation and legislation affecting all sectors of freight transportation. He has covered rail, trucking and maritime issues since 1993 for a variety of publications based in the U.S. and the U.K. John began business reporting in 1993 at Broadcasting & Cable Magazine. He graduated from Florida State University majoring in English and business.