UPS is partnering with CVS to develop ways to deliver prescriptions and other urgently needed healthcare supplies to consumers. It’s a significant step by the company’s drone subsidiary, UPS Flight Forward.
The Federal Aviation Administration has not yet approved widespread use of drones for such deliveries, but companies are preparing for that to become a reality.
The UPS announcement comes after Google’s sister company, Wing Aviation, in partnership with FedEx and Walgreens, last week said it had conducted the nation’s first scheduled commercial residential delivery to a home in Christiansburg, Va. The FedEx Express delivery was part of a trial that will involve deliveries to homes of FedEx customers in the Virginia town who opt in to the Wing delivery service. Customers in the pilot program can order health and wellness products from Walgreens through Wing’s delivery app.
UPS Flight Forward and CVS Health Corp. plan to develop “drone delivery use cases” and seek FAA clearance to test them. That would include business-to-consumer uses and other potential uses, according to UPS. The healthcare industry, where urgent delivery can be a life-or-death matter, is a major area of focus for future business for UPS.
“UPS Flight Forward plans to deliver packages to consumers at their homes in the near future,” the company said in a press release. UPS said it plans to work closely with the FAA and that the residential delivery tests will contribute to a future regulatory framework.
UPS chief strategy and transformation officer Scott Price said it’s expected to be around 2021 before the FAA allows “full and open skies when it comes to drones as we would envision.”
“We are a formally-approved drone airline, but in the absence of a regulatory framework, we have to apply for waivers,” Price said.
The shipping giant’s drone unit this year started delivering medical samples by drone within a hospital campus in Raleigh, N.C., and last month got FAA certification to operate as a “drone airline” and expand to other campuses.
On Monday, it announced partnerships with Kaiser Permanente and the University of Utah Health campus to transport medical items by drone between buildings at medical campuses, and a partnership with wholesale pharmaceutical distributor AmerisourceBergen to transport pharmaceuticals, supplies and records by drone from distribution centers to medical campuses.
UPS Flight Forward said it plans in the future to transport “other items in many industries.”
“We will create new logistics and delivery solutions no one has ever considered,” Price said in a statement.
The company also announced it is creating a new healthcare and life sciences unit that will include the company’s 114 healthcare facilities and two healthcare-related businesses it acquired in recent years — Marken and Polar Speed.
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