Flying meds: UPS uses drones for deliveries to CVS customers for first time

UPS is getting serious about drone delivery, in recent days completing what it claims were the first commercial drone deliveries of prescription meds in the United States under a program approved by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

The two trial flights, which took place on November 1, used a Matternet-built M2 drone to deliver prescription meds from a CVS Pharmacy in Cary, North Carolina, directly to customers’ homes.

The drone flew autonomously during both flights, albeit monitored the entire time by a remote operator who had the ability to intervene if something went wrong.

Upon reaching each delivery address, the flying machine hovered at an altitude of about 20 feet over the property before slowly lowering the packages to the ground via a cable and winch.

Keen to highlight how such a service has the potential to benefit particular types of people, UPS noted that one of the packages was delivered to a CVS customer who is unable to get out and about due to limited mobility.

UPS and CVS hope last week’s effort will be the start of something big as it edges toward the launch of a full-fledged service delivering prescription meds and a range of retail products to the homes of CVS Pharmacy customers.

“We now have an opportunity to offer different drone delivery solutions, tailored to meet customer needs for speed and convenience,” Scott Price, UPS chief strategy and transformation officer, said on Tuesday. “Delivering prescriptions by drone directly to homes could greatly improve the patient experience for CVS customers.”

Price added: “We’re delighted to build new services that will shatter preconceived notions of how, when and where goods can be delivered.”

UPS Flight Forward

The shipping giant is examining how it can incorporate drone deliveries into its business in the coming years. In July 2019, it created UPS Flight Forward, a unit geared toward the rapid scaling of delivery drone operations across various markets.

It’s not the first time UPS has utilized drones for this purpose, as it has also been trialing a service that flies medical samples between facilities at WakeMed Hospital in Raleigh, North Carolina. It has also unveiled a remarkable concept design that launches drones from the top of a delivery truck as part of a system that works alongside the driver to increase the rate of deliveries.

Precisely when UPS — as well as others in the same field such as Wing and Amazon — will be able to deploy large-scale delivery services using autonomous drones depends on the speed at which an effective drone traffic control system can be implemented, as well as getting clearance from the FAA, which still has strict rules for commercial drone services that include operating the aircraft within the pilot’s line of sight, away from people, and during daylight hours only.

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