UPS to Fly Medications by Drone to Florida Retirement Area April 27, 2020

United Parcel Service will use drones operated by its airline, UPS Flight Forward, to fill prescriptions from a local CVS for residents of retirement community The Villages in Florida. Delivery by UPS and its drone technology partner, Matternet, to The Villages, may eventually be expanded to include more CVS stores.

The Villages is one of the largest retirement communities in the country. Located about an hour north of Orlando, the community has about 135,000 residents. Sumter County, where The Villages is located, has had 171 residents test positive for COVID-19 and 12 deaths from the disease, according to April 26, 2020, data from the Florida Health Department.

The time-sensitive deliveries from a CVS store about half a mile from The Villages, using Matternet M2 drones, are scheduled to start in early May. These operations are the first paid residential deliveries by UPS Flight Forward, which received FAA approval last year to operate its drones under relaxed rules for commercial lightweight unmanned aircraft.

The delivery program will begin with drones dropping the prescriptions at a central location, after which a Flight Forward employee will take them by golf cart to residents’ homes. The ultimate goal is for the drones to make the delivery directly to residents, with the drones lowering their cargo by winch.

“This is the first step in an evolution to a model,” Bala Ganesh, chief of UPS’s advanced technology group, told Bloomberg. “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.”

Drone deliveries could be a great solution for bringing medicine and other goods to people who need them quickly or who are being asked (or required) to stay home in order to reduce the spread of COVID-19. But the FAA has been slow to approve drone flights on a large-scale basis, so flights at this point are mostly experimental.

But drone deliveries fill a need and have been working for some time. UPS and Matternet have completed almost 4,000 paid deliveries between campuses of the WakeMed health system in Raleigh, North Carolina. In November 2019, UPS also made limited home-delivery drone flights from a CVS pharmacy in Cary, North Carolina.

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