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UPS deploys drones, click and collect to fulfil orders during pandemic

UPS is using drones to deliver prescription medicines in the US, representing one of the first real-world applications of its technology.

The company’s Flight Forward subsidiary is working with pharmaceutical retailer CVS to deliver prescription medicines to the US’s largest retirement community in Florida. Called The Villages, the site is home to over 135,000 residents.

Initially the service will involve flights of less than half a mile, dropping the orders to a location near the community from which a ground vehicle will complete the delivery to the door.

In the future, the aim is that the drones will be able to deliver directly to homes. The operation may later include deliveries from two other CVS pharmacies nearby.

UPS already has live pilots of drone deliveries. In July 2019, UPS said it was introducing the Flight Forward subsidiary to allow it to quickly apply for certification to fly drones.

The Flight Forward programme in October added new customers including the University of Utah Health, drug store CVS Health, healthcare solutions provider AmerisourceBergen and healthcare provider Kaiser Permanente. All the applications include delivery of medical products, either to medical professionals or in the case of CVS Health, to consumers.

The trials build on UPS’s operational drone programme with Matternet at WakeMed Hospital in North Carolina.

Jon Roberts, executive vice president and chief operating officer of CVS Health, said: “Now more than ever, it’s important that our customers have access to their prescriptions.

“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 has also introduced a “curbside” collection service at over 800 store locations of the US’s largest arts and crafts retailer, Michaels.

These locations already housed UPS Access Points which customers could have their online orders delivered to. The new service means that customers can simply turn up at the shop, calling upon arrival and providing their name.