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Drone-delivered medicines to your doorstep

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If you’re looking for the most tangible step toward a day when drones routinely leave items on your doorstep, I’d invite you to take a closer look at a major delivery UPS orchestrated just a few days ago.

That’s when UPS, in partnership with CVS Pharmacy, completed the first revenue-generating drone delivery of a medical prescription to a consumer’s home. We then made another delivery of a medical prescription to a second customer in a nearby retirement community. 

"Our latest drone deliveries represent a major milestone in the blurring of the lines between your home, the doctor’s office and in some cases, even the hospital."

These were not isolated events: They provide a glimpse into a drone-filled future when the supply chain responds instantaneously to consumer demands in healthcare, retail and other industries powering international commerce.

It also expands when, where and how patients get the care they need. As we move to a more customizable healthcare model, drone delivery of prescriptions allows patients to receive life-saving medicines without leaving the comfort of their homes — and faster than ever before.

Our latest drone deliveries represent a major milestone in the blurring of the lines between your home, the doctor’s office and in some cases, even the hospital.

Or as Kevin Hourican, president of CVS Pharmacy, explains: “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.”

"Our initial drone flights in partnership with CVS are the building blocks for even greater transformation across the healthcare supply chain."

More drones on the horizon

Our initial drone flights in partnership with CVS are the building blocks for even greater transformation across the healthcare supply chain.

For context, the flights launched from a CVS store in Cary, North Carolina, and flew to CVS customers’ homes. The drone hovered about 20 feet above the properties and slowly lowered the packages by a cable and a winch to the ground. A drone operator watched the autonomous flights and could intervene if necessary.

Let’s be clear: We’re no longer operating in a testing environment. These are real-world applications — and the world of logistics will never be the same.

We already received full Part 135 Standard Certification from the Federal Aviation Administration to fly an unlimited number of drones with an unlimited number of operators.

We also expanded our groundbreaking drone logistics program in recent weeks to the University of Utah Health campus in Salt Lake City. The service, which first launched at WakeMed’s flagship hospital in Raleigh, North Carolina, also utilizes Matternet's unmanned drone system to transport medical products.

UPS Flight Forward has completed more than 1,500 revenue-generating drone deliveries at WakeMed Hospital in Raleigh since launching service there in March 2019, and we’re building out our ground infrastructure to enable expansion to several industries in the future.

As UPS works to improve healthcare logistics, our goal is to support customers by leapfrogging current technologies and advancing our Global Smart Logistics Network.

That means a data-driven network in which technology enables decisions, processes are highly automated, supply chain visibility is constant and customers get the flexibility and reliability they need to support their own supply chains.

That’s especially true in healthcare, where we recently launched a new business unit formation and technology-enabled network services to enhance the customer experience and bring unprecedented new levels of visibility, control and quality assurance to the healthcare supply chain.

This is the UPS vision of the future — and drones are a major part of that future.

"We’re not waiting for the world to change around us. We’re changing the world — one drone flight at a time."

In the pilot’s seat

I recently outlined UPS’s approach to innovation and highlighted that true innovation happens at the intersection of customer needs and technology. Regardless of the technology or the solution, I told the audience, we develop our strategies through the prism of the three A’s: authority, autonomy and action.

Our drone program checks all three of those boxes, especially that final metric, action. We are pushing the envelope with technology that will enable our customers’ growth today and in the future.

And whether it’s a drone or a delivery driver, we see our services as an indispensable component of the healthcare of tomorrow. The patient is our North Star as we leverage technology to solve their most pressing needs.

We’ve had many critical moments in our history when technology and human ingenuity align to deliver previously unthinkable progress for society as a whole. I believe we’re on the cusp of a similar moment, and we can’t look back now.

Amelia Earhart, the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean, once famously said: There’s more to life than being a passenger.

With a nod to Earhart, we’re not waiting for the world to change around us. We’re changing the world — one drone flight at a time.

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