Last month UPS announced that it was the first to receive approval from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to operate its full drone airline. It allowed them to expand upon their small drone delivery pilot programs into a nation wide network.
Soon after, UPS partnered with CVS Pharmacy to begin delivering prescription drugs right to the doorsteps of residential customers with its newly deployed commercial drones. On November 1, 2019, two paying customers were the first official residential recipients. This is an exciting development, but not the first time UPS has deployed drones in the healthcare industry. The logistics company has been working in a business to business setting with WakeMed Hospital in Raleigh, NC since March 2019.
For these initial home deliveries, the drones were loaded by a UPS employee with prescriptions filled by CVS pharmacists in Cary, North Carolina. Once the cargo was loaded onto the drones, they flew autonomously from the store location to the customers' homes nearby. Once at the residence, the drones hovered at a height of about 20 feet, and lowered the packages with a cable that released the package once it touched down. According to UPS, one of the customers has mobility challenges that makes travelling to retail pharmacies to pick up prescription medications very difficult. The new drone delivery system will make this aspect of life much easier for such customers.
While UPS and CVS have earned the right to claim 'firsts' in this revolutionary step in home delivery services, the competition will be ramping up quickly as both Amazon and UberEats intend to begin deploying delivery drones of their own in the very near future. Additionally, this is only a first step for UPS as the courier has outlined its next steps from here. They intend to expand service to new hospitals and medial facilities, more residential customers across the country, build out ground-based detection and avoidance systems for its drone fleets, build a central operation control facility, and partner with new drone makers to create different kinds of delivery drones for different payloads.