Screenshot via Workhorse.

Screenshot via Workhorse.

The Workhorse Group — with its electric truck and a drone delivery system — is among the 15 companies qualified by the U.S. Postal Service as potential suppliers of its next-generation delivery vehicle.

Whether the USPS will embrace innovative technology that's poised to disrupt the "last mile" of traditional package delivery remains an open question, but Workhorse CEO Steve Burns believes an order for 180,000 vehicles that could reach $6.3 billion could play into his favor. The USPS has said it's seeking a vehicle that will serve for two decades.

"When you’ve got a deal that big, it’s a chance to leapfrog" other delivery methods, Burns said. "That’s a big enough bounty where innovation can happen. It's going to cause a quantum leap."

Burns faces tough competition on a list of potential suppliers that includes Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, Ford, Nissan, and Freightliner. The list also includes AM General, Emerald Automotive, Karsan, Mahindra, Morgan Olson, OEM Systems, Oshkosh, Utilimaster, VT Hackney, and ZAP Jonway.

Workhorse, which officially changed its name from Amp in April, would submit its E-Gen range-extended truck chassis and HorseFly package delivery drone. The company is partnering with a body builder to develop a custom service body that would include a drone deployment port in the roof that allows the drone to exit and return from delivery jobs.

The drone would use the vehicle's battery to charge its pair of Panasonic 18650 (18-by-65 mm size) lithium ion batteries. The drone uses a 3G cellular signal and point-to-point signal from the truck to reach its target. The driver uses a tablet mounted inside the truck to pinpoint the final delivery location at the address, and the landing is managed by certified pilots in a Workhorse command center.

The latest E-Gen chassis features a 200-kilowatt Sumo motor from Canada's TM4, a Panasonic 18650 battery pack, and 2.4-liter engine from Power Solutions International in the hybrid model. The engine can be set up to run on gasoline, CNG or propane autogas.

Burns is waiting for the USPS to issue its RFP this month so he can submit a detailed proposal. The USPS would then select several suppliers to build prototypes for testing. Drone operation would still need federal regulatory approval before moving forward.

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