Workhorse demonstrated its new HorseFly delivery drone technology at Pack Expo Las Vegas 2017. It’s exciting to think that drones may one day bring beer right to your door, thereby solving the problem of the late-party beer run. Unfortunately, the technology is probably several years away from (a) urban applications and (b) delivering temperature-sensitive and fragile products like beer.
Workhorse, which has been making electric trucks for companies like UPS for years, had successfully run trials of the HorseFly making “tandem deliveries” with a UPS driver on a rural route. That is, the drone is stationed on top of the delivery truck, software computes which packages the drone can effectively deliver in order to decrease the number of total stops on the route, the driver feeds it a package from underneath, and then it takes off and makes the delivery.
The drone can land and drop off the package, or it can lower the package on a winch if, as the demo’s narrator suggested, a dog or child should be present. That was the first time it struck me that the problem with drones isn’t just with airplanes or trees, i.e., things up high, but with things down low, too. I expect the drone folks will need to do some serious public education and safety assurance for this reason. It won’t take more than one or two dogs getting their tails clipped for the public to sour quickly on flying robots descending from the sky with their replacement batteries.
That said, it is still a cool technology that can significantly reduce costs for delivery companies. They estimate it only costs $0.01-0.02 per mile compared to the $0.30-1.00 per mile cost of the trucks. So far, the range is relatively limited to a few miles, and it can only fly about 30 minutes on one charge — and it takes 17 minutes to charge. I don’t think it’s being cavalier to say they’ll improve those numbers pretty quickly. Whether there are obvious beer applications is hard to say at this stage, but consider yourself a little more informed than you were two minutes ago.
Brad Fruhauff is a good dude, a great beer writer and a contributor to Craft Brewing Business. Plus, he wants to write for your brewery. Check out his other work here.