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UPS successfully delivered medical supplies by drone to an island off the Atlantic coast

The world’s largest shipping company is testing medical delivery drones.


UPS upped its drone game yesterday. In partnership with drone maker CyPhy Works, the world’s largest shipping company completed a test delivery of medical supplies via unmanned aircraft from the town of Beverly, Mass., to Children’s Island, located about three miles off the Atlantic coast and unreachable by car.

The flight was intended to simulate the viability of using drones to make time-critical deliveries. For the mock scenario, the drone carried an inhaler to a child on the island attending summer camp, even though there was no real medical emergency.

UPS invested in CyPhy Works last fall, helping the drone startup launch the commercial version of its Persistent Aerial Reconnaissance and Communications drone, which was originally designed for surveillance and intelligence gathering for the U.S. military. UPS, however, envisions using the same aircraft for unmanned commercial deliveries. The 10-pound drone is capable of zipping across the sky with a six-pound payload in tow while traveling at speeds that reach up to 40 miles per hour (35 knots) against the wind.

Yesterday’s test flight wasn’t UPS’s first foray into unmanned aerial systems. The company already uses drones in its warehouses to survey high storage racks for stock and available space. UPS also invested in the robotics startup Zipline earlier this summer, announcing plans to deliver blood and vaccines to transfusion centers in Rwanda in drone test flights, which the company says may prove considerably faster than ground transport to remote rural medical centers. UPS’s Rwanda drone delivery testing is expected to begin this October.

Since the FAA’s new rules for small commercial drone flight require all aircraft to be flown within line of sight of the operator, a boat followed the test mission to Children’s Island to monitor the flight, reported USA Today.

UPS is working closely with the FAA. The company’s director of airline safety, Captain Houston Mills, was appointed to the regulatory agency’s drone advisory committee this summer, along with San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee and advisers from Google X, Facebook, Lockheed Martin, Amazon Prime Air and others.

Amazon has also been fine tuning its drone plans this year, but not in the United States, opting instead to operate test flights in Canada and the U.K. without the restrictions that come with piloting in U.S. airspace. The new FAA rules prohibit flying at night and operating drones that weigh over 55 pounds. This summer, DHL also shared its plans to expand into drone delivery, having completed three months of testing its own drone, dubbed the Parcelcopter, in Germany this May.

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