UPS successfully tests new drone delivery model

ups_cyphy_flight_approach_shore_view_lo_resWhile trucks and vans can conquer more terrain now than ever, there are still times when deliveries would be best served by drones.

Such is the thinking of UPS, the world’s largest package delivery service, which recently demonstrated in a partnership with drone-maker CyPhy Works that drones can often provide the fastest and most efficient mode of delivering small, critical packages to remote areas.

Small is key, along with necessity. In a recent test, UPS used a drone from CyPhy Works to fly an asthma inhaler from Beverly, Mass. to Children’s Island, about three miles off the Atlantic coast.

The drone flight advances an investment made by The UPS Strategic Enterprise Fund in CyPhy to gather information about drone uses and capabilities.

“Our focus is on real-world applications that benefit our customers,” said Mark Wallace, UPS senior vice president of global engineering and sustainability. “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.”

Last month, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), issued new rules that expanded the uses of drones in commercial applications. Operators must adhere to important safety regulations.

UPS believes these new rules are a step in the right direction. With the recent appointment of Captain Houston Mills, UPS Airlines’ director of safety, to the FAA’s new drone advisory committee, UPS intends to keep working closely with regulators to stay on the right path.

Innovation through automation and robotics has long been a focus for the world’s largest package delivery company. UPS has been testing drones in warehouses to check high storage racks to confirm stock or available space. The company also is exploring the use of drones to deliver humanitarian aid in hard-to-reach parts of the world.

“We’re thrilled to partner with UPS in this endeavor,” said Helen Greiner, CyPhy’s founder and chief technology officer. “Drone technology used in this way can save lives and deliver products and services to places that are difficult to reach by traditional transit infrastructures.”

The CyPhy drone used during last Thursday’s test is the Persistent Aerial Reconnaissance and Communications (PARC) system. The battery-powered drone flies itself and requires little training.

“It is extremely durable, has night vision and features secure communications that cannot be intercepted or disrupted,” a representative with CyPhy said.

The successful drone test performed on Children’s Island has UPS feeling confident about the alternative delivery model.

“UPS has a history of innovation that reaches back more than a hundred years,” Wallace said. “UPS uniformed employees remain a vital connection to our customers, but tests like these reveal a bridge to the future of customer service and urgent package delivery. We are continuously exploring ways to improve our network to efficiently support our customers’ demanding requirements.”