Drones are everywhere these days. Mostly they’re used for good. Drones help find lost children and hikers. They detect bombs in war zones and save lives.
On the other hand, they invade people’s privacy. Sometimes they endanger planes by flying too closely.
But there’s a new upside to drones: medications delivered straight to your home. Especially important in light of COVID-19 and social distancing, delivery and pharmaceutical companies are using more and more drones to transport medications to residential customers.
North Carolina: First in Drone Medication Deliveries
The first drone medication deliveries to consumers occurred late last year in Cary, North Carolina, near Raleigh. Two prescriptions were delivered by CVS Pharmacy in conjunction with UPS’s Flight Forward subsidiary. A UPS drone delivered the first prescription to a private residence in Cary. A second delivery was made on the same day to a resident living nearby at Searstone Retirement Community. Both deliveries launched from the same CVS store.
UPS received approval last fall from the FAA to conduct the residential drone medication deliveries after working for more than a year with Matternet, a drone developer based in the Silicon Valley. Flight Forward and Matternet collaborated on 1,500 medical deliveries to nearby Wake Hospital.
CVS says the drones were loaded by a UPS employee at a CVS location in Cary. After the drones were loaded, they flew autonomously from the store to the locations. The packages were loaded down to the ground from a height of roughly 20 feet.
Drone Medication Deliveries Start at Florida Retirement Community
This month, UPS and CVS Health Corp. will start delivering prescriptions using Matternet M2 drones to residents living in The Villages, Fla.,the nation’s largest retirement community. Located in central Florida, the community is home to more than 135,000 people. It also has one of the largest veteran populations in the country.
Residents of The Villages can have their medications delivered directly to them, eliminating the need to go to the pharmacy. The first flights will be less than a half-mile long. In the beginning, medications will be delivered to a location near the retirement community. A ground vehicle will then deliver the medication to the resident’s door.
Support for Social Distancing, Rural Communities
According to UPS and CVS Health Corp., drone medication delivery offers a fast, efficient way to deliver time-sensitive prescriptions while respecting social distancing. No more standing in line wearing a mask and gloves or idling in the drive-through lane to pick up your prescriptions.
The new service could also be a huge benefit for people with disabilities or mobility issues. Moreover, drones can transport prescriptions to people living in rural areas who don’t have easy access to pharmacies.
Wingcopter, Flight Forward Lift Off
UPS Flight Forward has also teamed up with Wingcopter, a German-based drone maker, to deliver medication and other goods throughout the United States and overseas.
Wingcopter develops and produces long-range drones for commercial deliveries. The company also uses drones for humanitarian purposes such as delivering medicines to remote islands and other hard-to-reach locations. To date, the company has delivered critical medicines to people on an Irish island in the North Sea, villages on Vanuatu in the South Pacific and a Tanzanian island in Lake Victoria. The company currently works with clients from ten different countries.
Wingcopter drones feature vertical takeoffs and landings in tight spaces that transition to high-speed horizontal flight. The drone’s tilt-rotor mechanism is a fusion of multi-copter for hovering and fixed-wing for forward flight. Founded in 2017, Wingcopter is based in Darmstadt, Germany.
West Coast Deliveries
No word yet from UPS on when we can expect to see drone medication deliveries here in California or other western states.
However, Unmanned Systems Operations Group (USOG) in San Diego is also entering the drone space. The company is working on a drone medication delivery program with SortPak, another major pharmacy that serves customers around the country.
USOG says it’s currently testing its software and drones. The company plans to launch a series of test flights in Riverside County later this year.