The United States Postal Service recently announced it’s exploring introducing drones into its vehicle fleet to advance mail delivery operations and support its collection of geospatial, sensor, image and other data. The independent agency published a document of answers to potential participants’ questions Friday, offering new details into its plans.
“The Postal Service recognizes that the ability of [unmanned aircraft systems] to supplement mail delivery and information collection can substantially benefit the country and further the development of other autonomous systems,” agency officials wrote in the original request for information.
The Postal Service currently has no incumbent contractors fulfilling drone-related services and noted that, if implemented, this would be a first-of-its-kind program. Through the initial RFI published in late September, the agency does not aim to award a direct contract to a vendor to immediately deploy services. Instead, it’s conducting market research, to better inform the future of the postal service’s delivery operations and potentially accelerate the safe adoption of UAS technology across the nation.
The agency noted it would likely work with multiple entities to integrate drones into its fleet, and that it “may identify candidates for a future solicitation” aimed at boosting its operations and testing the viability of unmanned aircrafts to transport mail.
Regulated by Federal Aviation Administration rules, the Postal Service anticipates integrating drones to support services such as “long driveway delivery” by launching drones from vehicles to make deliveries and then return on their own as carriers continue along their routes. They could support difficult deliveries to remote places like small islands or across rugged terrains. The agency also aims to explore a “ride-sharing model,” through which customers can access an application to connect with USPS drone fleets for “business to customer” delivery options. In the future, it may also offer infrastructure as a service, which would enable drone service providers to leverage USPS tools, data and services to accomplish tasks like farm or power line inspections.