A UPS autonomous drone carries medical supplies.
UPS announces an agreement with CVS to develop a drone delivery service for prescription drugs.
UPS gets the first FAA approval to operate a drone delivery service earlier this month.
FedEx completes its first residential drone delivery under a pilot program last week.
The drugstore run could soon be replaced by the drugstore flyby as the United Parcel Service follows rival FedEx in partnering with a major U.S. drugstore chain on drone deliveries.
On Monday, UPS announced plans to work with CVS Health to develop a prescription drug delivery service using UPS drones. UPS Flight Forward and its partner Matternet this month became the first drone delivery service to receive full certification from the Federal Aviation Administration to operate a drone airline.
“UPS Flight Forward is rapidly building a robust customer base and a network of technology partners to galvanize our leadership in drone delivery,” said Scott Price, UPS chief strategy and transformation officer. “Previous thinking had been limited to only ground transportation technology. Now we’re thinking in three dimensions.”
“We’re always looking to improve convenience for customers through faster, lower-cost and more efficient delivery models,” said Kevin Hourican, president of CVS Pharmacy.
Rival FedEx is already testing B to C drone deliveries with Wing, Google’s drone subsidiary, and Walgreens.
On Friday, FedEx made an express delivery via drone in Christianburg, Virginia, where the Department of Transportation has been working with the city to test drone delivery since 2016. The company says it is the first scheduled e-commerce delivery via drone delivery trial in the nation. Customers who opt in for the trial will be able to order health and wellness products from Walgreens.
“This collaboration will test the latest innovation in the last mile of a residential package delivery,” said Don Colleran, president and CEO of FedEx Express. “We hope that this latest addition to our delivery options will enhance the last mile service for urgent same-day deliveries, customers in rural or semi-rural areas, and other exceptional delivery needs.”
Amazon’s Prime Air is also testing commercial drone delivery as major shippers ramp up their capabilities to address the rapidly growing e-commerce market. Drones could be a key part of that strategy.
Approximately 13.3 billion parcels are delivered in the U.S. annually, according to logistics data firm Ship Matrix. Seventy-two percent are under 5 pounds and more than 50% can fit in a mailbox, making them compatible with current size and weight restrictions for the majority of commercial drones, according to Ship Matrix President Satish Jindel.
UPS also said it’s expanding its medical drone delivery program to the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. Since March, the shipping company has been using drones to deliver samples, instruments and supplies on the campus of WakeMed Medical Center in Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina.
“We are in full-fledged deployment and scaling; this is already a business. That’s where the value is,” said Bala Ganesh, the head of UPS’ advanced technology group. “As time evolves we will find other use cases.”
UPS says it is also exploring industrial and manufacturing uses for drones.