Workhorse truck-mounted delivery drone could soar in post-COVID-19 world (with videos)

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Workhorse Group Inc. (NASDAQ: WKHS) is seeking additional patent protection for its truck-mounted HorseFly delivery drone because customers say touchless delivery will carry over beyond the coronavirus pandemic to life after the health crisis.

“In the last several months we have seen significant and growing interest in our vehicle-launched HorseFly delivery drone, making the need to expand the HorseFly patent portfolio even more critical,” Workhorse CEO Duane Hughes said in a statement. 

“We are hearing from many businesses that this transition is not a temporary one, and that we need to adapt to a new normal,” he said.

Real-world testing

The HorseFly Unmanned Aerial System is a multiuse aircraft that can deliver parcels, carry sensors and cameras, and operate autonomously with a high degree of precision, the company says. It tested the HorseFly with United Parcel Service (NYSE: UPS) in 2017 and StockX, an online seller of clothing and sneakers, in 2018.

Workhorse will offer HorseFly drones on its C-Series electric vans in early-stage production in Union City, Indiana. A spokesman said Workhorse holds several patents for the HorseFly but declined to offer specifics or disclose customers participating in drone testing.

“We feel strongly that all Workhorse electric delivery vehicles, with their integrated drone capabilities, are the most economical and efficient last-mile option currently available,” Hughes said in a statement Wednesday.

HorseFly capability

The HorseFly’s real-world commercial demonstrations meet Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) flight standards. The drone is designed to deliver approximately 80% of most commercial package sizes, shapes and weights. It can carry a 5-pound payload up to 10 miles.

The recently filed provisional patent application covers key components and capabilities, including its ground control station, winch deliveries and aircraft structure.

In addition to delivering parcels via airdrops, winch deliveries from various altitudes and ground deliveries, the HorseFly system can carry sensors and cameras and operate autonomously with a high degree of precision, Workhorse said.

A quick-change battery system reduces ground time between missions. HorseFly’s mission-planning software enables operators to coordinate precise delivery routes, avoiding no-fly zones and hazardous weather. A customer interface enables remote pilots to monitor missions and notify pilots when their attention is required.

Paycheck Protection Loan

Separately, Workhorse said Thursday it received a $1.4 million loan under the federal Paycheck Protection Program that is part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act administered by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA).

The company will use proceeds primarily for payroll costs. It has no obligation to pay principal or interest for six months. If Workhorse meets certain qualifications under the program, a large portion of the loan could later convert to a grant.

Workhorse applied early and received the SBA loan through PNC Bank without hassle, according to Chief Financial Officer Steve Schrader.

“These funds will go a long way in allowing us to continue to meet our payroll needs and, as an essential business supporting the package delivery industry, keeping all our employees safe and working is critical through this challenging period,” he said.

The SBA said Thursday that $350 million earmarked for the program has been exhausted, and the agency won’t be accepting new aid applications or enrolling new lenders.