UPS Flight Forward is partnering with CVS to deliver prescriptions to The Villages, Florida, the nation’s largest retirement community, serving 135,000 residents. The program will start in early May.
The drones will operate on routes of half a mile or less between a CVS location and a central drop-off point outside the community. From there, a manned ground vehicle will complete the deliveries to customer residences. Eventually, the pilot could expand to include two additional CVS locations and switch over to direct-to-home drone delivery.
UPS is coordinating with the Federal Aviation Administration on the project, which has granted the carrier “authority to operate through the [coronavirus] pandemic and explore on-going needs as they arise after that period”.
UPS completed its first drone delivery with CVS in November 2019 in North Carolina. Since then, as part of the carrier’s coronavirus response effort, it has been testing the viability of drones to complete smaller-scale deliveries to medical sites or directly to consumers to facilitate ongoing shelter-in-place and social distancing measures in various states.
UPS’ Matternet drones allow for cold and temperature sensitive deliveries and have been used to deliver blood samples and vaccines in the past. However, due to federal and state regulations on flight conditions and routes, and engineering requirements that keep payload weights to under 10 pounds, scaling up drone delivery nationwide is a ways off from being mainstream.
In Florida, expanding at-home delivery options for customers is a priority for CVS as elderly individuals or those with underlying medical conditions are at increased risk.
“Now more than ever, it’s important that our customers have access to their prescriptions,” Jon Roberts, executive vice president and chief operating officer of CVS Health said in a statement. “In addition to our in-store pickup, free delivery services and drive through pickup, this drone delivery service provides an innovative method to reach some of our customers.”
UPS and CVS did not respond to a request for comment about how many deliveries it expects to make or whether any additional delivery fees would be associated with the drone service.
Wing, an Alphabet company, is also piloting drone delivery in residential communities in Australia, Europe and the U.S. In its Virginia pilot, the company has partnered with FedEx and Walgreens to deliver prescriptions and consumer goods and has seen orders “increase significantly” since social distancing measures began in the state in March.