UPS tests drones for delivery of urgent packages to remote locations

Sandy Springs-based UPS said it has begun testing commercial drone deliveries of urgent packages to remote locations.

The shipping giant said it is working with drone maker CyPhy Works on testing, which started Thursday with a mock delivery of medicine from Beverly, Mass. to an island three miles off the Atlantic coast. UPS’s strategic enterprise fund has invested in CyPhy.

The test delivery of an asthma inhaler to Children’s Island, which can’t be reached by automobile, used a battery-powered drone with night vision and “secure communications that cannot be intercepted or disrupted.”

“We think drones offer a great solution to deliver to hard-to-reach locations in urgent situations where other modes of transportation are not readily available,” said UPS senior vice president of global engineering and sustainability Mark Wallace in a written statement. He added that “tests like these reveal a bridge to the future of customer service and urgent package delivery.”

CyPhy’s founder Helen Greiner said in a written statement that drones can make deliveries to places difficult to reach by “traditional transit infrastructures.” The drone used in the test Thursday is called the Persistent Aerial Reconnaissance and Communications system.

The move comes after new rules from the Federal Aviation Administration took effect last month for commercial use of drones, opening the door to limited use of drones by businesses. UPS Airlines’ director of safety Houston Mills sits on the FAA’s drone advisory committee.

UPS has also been testing the use of drones in warehouses to check high racks, and for humanitarian efforts to deliver vaccines and blood in Rwanda in partnership with vaccine alliance Gavi.