UPS to Fly Medications by Drone to Florida Retirement Area

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(Bloomberg) -- United Parcel Service Inc. will use drones to fill prescriptions for residents of The Villages in Florida, one of the country’s biggest retirement communities, amid a lockdown to halt the coronavirus.

The time-sensitive deliveries from a CVS store about a half mile away are scheduled to begin early May. They will mark the first paid residential deliveries by UPS’s drone unit Flight Forward, which received approval last year to operate under relaxed rules for commercial lightweight unmanned aircraft.

The operation will start with drones dropping the prescriptions at a central location and a Flight Forward employee will ferry them by golf cart to homes. The ultimate goal is for the program to operate under the less stringent rules and make the deliveries directly, with the drone lowering its package by winch, said Bala Ganesh, chief of UPS’s advanced technology group.

“This is the first step in an evolution to a model,” Ganesh said by phone Monday. “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 hold promise for ferrying medicine and other goods to people who need them quickly or who can’t leave home, and are especially useful when people are being ask to say home to stop the spread of the virus. Still, the Federal Aviation Administration has been careful about rolling out the technology and the flights are mostly experimental.

Sumter County, where The Villages is located, has had 171 residents test positive for the virus and 12 deaths from Covid-19, according to Florida Health Department data from Sunday.

Deliveries by UPS and drone-technology partner Matternet to The Villages, which has some 135,000 residents about an hour north of Orlando, may be expanded to include more CVS Health Corp. stores. UPS in November made limited home-delivery drone flights from a CVS pharmacy in Cary, North Carolina.

UPS, Google parent Alphabet Inc. and other companies are pushing forward on drone deliveries under limited conditions. UPS and Matternet have completed more than 3,700 paid drone deliveries on a Raleigh, North Carolina, hospital campus. Alphabet’s Wing has been making residential deliveries in Christiansburg, Virginia, in a test program approved in October.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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