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The Season

Are you ready to have your medication delivered by drone?

Jack Stewart Nov 6, 2019
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A UPS drone carries a cardboard box from CVS to a customer.
UPS

A number of companies want to deliver by drone, including Amazon, which is still pursuing what it’s calling Prime Air. The FAA is allowing a series of trials to see how that could work — for Amazon and others. 

Just this week CVS announced, in partnership with UPS and a drone developer, the first commercial drone delivery of prescription medication.

Tim Carone, who studies autonomous systems at the University of Wisconsin, said companies doing test flights such as these are working to understand how drone deliveries figure into the delivery, distribution and logistics side of their businesses.

The CVS flights, in Cary, North Carolina, started with a pharmacist packing medicines into a cardboard box and handing it to a UPS drone operator. The operator loaded the box into a white quadcopter drone about the size of a suitcase.

The drone flew autonomously, monitored by a remote operator. At its destination, the drone hovered about 20 feet above the ground and lowered its cargo on a cable.

A video from UPS shows how the delivery worked.

According to UPS, one of the packages was delivered to a CVS customer whose limited mobility makes it difficult to travel to a store to pick up a prescription.

CVS teamed up with UPS and drone maker Matternet. (Courtesy UPS)

And that’s where starting regular drone deliveries with medical supplies could be a smart move.

“Medications is a category that is often needed urgently,” said Denise Dahlhoff, a senior researcher at the Conference Board, a think tank.

Drones have been delivering life-saving blood in the African country of Rwanda. In April, a drone delivered a kidney for transplant to Baltimore.

Dahlhoff said life-saving drones could make consumers more accepting of the technology. Or, at least, less likely to object to those drones hovering over their houses.

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