UPS and CVS make first home deliveries of medical prescriptions by drone
Postal company UPS has achieved another ‘first’ for drone deliveries by making a commercial delivery of a medical prescription from a pharmacy to a residential property. The firm’s drone subsidiary UPS Flight Forward received approval from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to operate a fleet of aerial delivery drones in late September.
UPS Flight Forward joined with US healthcare company CVS Health to make the delivery from a CVS pharmacy directly to a consumer’s home, in Cary, in North Carolina. It was followed by another delivery to a second customer in a nearby retirement community. In one case, the customer’s limited mobility had made it difficult to travel to the pharmacy to pick up a prescription.
Both flights occurred last week (November 1). Both used an M2 ‘quadcopter’ by drone developer Matternet, the same drone system that has featured in UPS’ early drone delivery flights.
UPS Flight Forward, the first to receive Part 135 Standard certification from the FAA for drone operations, is already running drone deliveries between hospital campuses. It has worked with Matternet on more than 1,500 revenue-generating deliveries, carrying nearly 8,000 samples, at WakeMed Hospital in Raleigh, also in North Carolina, since March 2019.
The new Part 135 Standard certification permits the company to collect payment for drone deliveries and to fly as many drones “as necessary to meet customer demand”.
UPS and CVS have said they will develop a variety of drone delivery use cases, including business-to-consumer operating models. The recent residential deliveries in Cary saw autonomous drones hover around 20 feet over the properties and lower packages to the ground by a cable and a winch. Flights were monitored by a remote operator, able to intervene if necessary.
UPSFF is building out its ground infrastructure to expand the service to new industries, it said, and “shatter preconceived notions of how, when and where goods can be delivered.”
Scott Price, chief strategy and transformation officer at UPS, said: “We now have an opportunity to offer different drone delivery solutions, tailored to meet customer needs for speed and convenience. Delivering prescriptions by drone directly to homes could greatly improve the patient experience for CVS customers.”
Kevin Hourican, president of CVS Pharmacy, commented: “This drone delivery, the first of its kind in the industry, demonstrates what’s possible for our customers who can’t easily make it into our stores. CVS is exploring many types of delivery options for urban, suburban and rural markets. We see big potential in drone delivery in rural communities where life-saving medications are needed and consumers at times cannot conveniently access one of our stores.”