UPS and CVS have delivered drone history that could literally be just what the doctor ordered.
The carrier giant’s aerial subsidiary UPS Flight Forward partnered with drug-store chain CVS to complete the first-ever American commercial drone delivery of a prescription to a customer’s home – a mission both companies say will be the first of many.
On Friday, workers launched an M2 drone developed by Matternet from a CVS store in Cary, N.C. and delivered the medicine by lowering the parcel down to the customer using a cable and winch. The successful flight was followed by a second delivery to a homebound customer at a nearby retirement village.
“[The CVS delivery] demonstrates what’s possible for our customers who can’t easily make it into our stores,” CVS Pharmacy CEO Kevin Hourican said, adding that the company will explore delivery options in urban, suburban and rural markets.
UPS announced the launch of UPS Flight Forward in March after filing for FAA authorization. The FAA granted what is known as Part 135 certification last month, paving the way for the delivery service to fly into the consumer market.
The certificate allowed Flight Forward to complete a drone delivery at WakeMed hospital in Raleigh. Since then, company officials say they have completed more than 1,500 revenue-generating drone deliveries to WakeMed.
“We see big potential in drone delivery in rural communities where life-saving medications are needed and consumers at times cannot conveniently access one of our stores,” Hourican said.
The concept of medical drone deliveries goes back to at least 2014, when Bay Area startup QuiQui (pronounced ‘quicky’) began working on medical drone delivery as a concept for the Mission District of San Francisco.
In May, a team from the University of Maryland delivered a successfully transplanted kidney to surgeons at the university’s hospital.
“We now have an opportunity to offer different drone delivery solutions, tailored to meet customer needs for speed and convenience,” said Scott Price, UPS chief strategy and transformation officer.
“Delivering prescriptions by drone directly to homes could greatly improve the patient experience for CVS customers. We’re delighted to build new services that will shatter preconceived notions of how, when and where goods can be delivered.”
While the UPS/CVS prescription delivery represents the first of its kind in the U.S., the world’s first maiden flight occurred in September in Ireland. Researchers at NUI Galway completed the inaugural mission, delivering medication and blood samples for diabetes care from Connemara Airport to Inis Mór in the Aran Islands.
In what may soon become a race to drone-delivery supremacy, Walgreens also announced a partnership with Alphabet UAV spinoff Wing last month. The duo successfully launched a non-prescription drone delivery service to select customers in Christianburg, Va.
Eligible customers will be able to order from a menu of more than 100 Walgreens products as well as pre-packaged bundles for allergies, baby-care, cough/cold, first-aid, pain relief and snacks.