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UPS test drives drone delivery with mock package

With Amazon tightening its grip on the supply chain and shipping industries, older heavyweights are struggling to keep up.

But that’s not for a lack of effort. Venturing into the world of drones, UPS announced it is starting to test emergency deliveries with help from CyPhy Works, a Massachusetts-based drone company. The partnership is nothing new for UPS, as the shipping giant participated in a $22 million funding round CyPhy raised last year.

The testing began with a short 3-mile flight on Friday, about eight minutes in length, to drop a small package containing a mock asthma inhaler to a summer camp on an island in the Atlantic. While nothing here is groundbreaking, as drones from Amazon and other companies have accomplished longer journeys and carried heavier loads, the trial was meant to simply be a test drive to show UPS’ intent with drone deliveries and the technology’s potential for speedy, personalized service.

Related: Check out this battery-less drone prototype that relies entirely on wireless charging

The CyPhy-UPS drone, called the Persistent Aerial Reconnaissance and Communications drone, or PARC for short, was autonomous during the flight and navigated by GPS. This specific flight model was modified, as the original was developed as a tethered drone with a wired connection to the ground to use as a power source.

Of course, a tethered drone cannot travel long distances, but it certainly has its use cases. The tethered model had recently been used to monitor traffic around a Tim McGraw concert by the Colorado Department of Transportation, according to BostInno writer Dylan Martin, who attended the UPS test flight in Massachusetts.

The PARC has a high-resolution camera with thermal imaging and target tracking abilities, and two GPS units and multiple rotors, antenna and communications systems so that if one fails, the other can be used in its place. The battery on the untethered model, used for deliveries, only lasts in the air for 40 minutes, so shorter flights would be necessary.