UPS and CVS teaming up to deliver prescriptions via drone in Florida

UPS scores FAA approval for its drone delivery program.
Image: UPS

The idea of delivering packages via drone isn’t exactly new. Even so, most people probably never associated it with the delivery of prescription medications. Thanks to quarantine measures related to the coronavirus pandemic, that’s exactly what will soon be happening at one retirement community in Florida.

UPS and CVS are teaming up to deliver medications to elderly residents via drones without them having to leave their homes. The deliveries are being conducted under the authorization of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and are scheduled to begin in early May.

Medical Air

Elderly residents of The Villages retirement community (the largest in Florida and one of the biggest in the United States) are staying home amid a lockdown to stop the spread of the coronavirus. For some, that has made accessing necessary prescription medications difficult.

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Scott Price, UPS’s chief strategy and transformation officer says, “Our new drone delivery service will help CVS provide safe and efficient deliveries of medicines to this large retirement community, enabling residents to receive medications without leaving their homes.”

UPS will use Matternet’s M2 drones to make the deliveries. To start, prescriptions will be sent out from a nearby CVS store. They’ll then make a half-mile trip in the air to a pickup location near the retirement community. From there, a Flight Forward UPS employee will ferry each package to the recipient’s door via golf cart.

That alone doesn’t sound particularly impressive. If anything, it sounds like more work and a logistics nightmare.

Fortunately, it isn’t the end goal for UPS. Bala Ganesh, chief of UPS’s advanced technology group, says, “This is the first step in an evolution to a model. In the long run, it would be multiple CVS stores around the community flying directly to the home and dropping whatever the prescriptions may be.”

Two additional CVS stores will join the trial at a later date, but it’s unclear whether they will also serve The Villages. Eventually, the drones will deliver medications directly to recipients’ doorsteps by lowering the package down from the air with a winch.

Promising Application

Companies like UPS, FedEx, and Amazon are eyeing drone-based package delivery as a valuable tool for the future. In October, UPS received approval from the FAA to operate a “drone airline” company.

That designation gives it operational freedom to do things like deliver packages and fly out an operator’s eyesight. The company’s Flight Forward division has previously conducted thousands of test deliveries of prescriptions to retirement community residents in North Carolina.

Despite the fact that UPS is now rolling out the trial to a new location, it isn’t ready for any type of widespread scaling. That means that most people won’t be getting their prescriptions via drone anytime soon.

Nonetheless, it is a promising application of the technology that has the potential to benefit millions of consumers down the road. The COVID-19 pandemic is simply giving UPS an opportunity to keep testing the system in a meaningful way.

“UPS is committed to playing its part in fighting COVID-19, and this is another way we can support our healthcare customers and individuals with innovative solutions,” says Price.


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