UPS Tests Drone Delivery with CyPhy Works
September 23, 2016      

Island-dwellers rejoice. Delivery drones have taken another step in proving they can safely deliver urgent medicine to hard-to-reach locations.

CyPhy Works and UPS tested a delivery drone on a three-mile trip from Beverly, Mass. to a YMCA camp at Children’s Island. It took about eight minutes for the drone to deliver an asthma inhaler to a child on the island off the coast of the Atlantic Ocean. The drone flew about 22 MPH and is a much quicker delivery solution than the 30-minute boat ride several people involved in the test took to Children’s Island. The island isn’t accessible by car.

The drone used was a modified version of CyPhy’s Persistent Aerial Reconnaissance and Communications (PARC) drone. The PARC drone was built as a tethered drone that’s wired to the ground for longer battery life, a more secure connection, and unbroken, hi-def video. The modified PARC used in this UPS drone delivery test wasn’t tethered, but the 42-inch, 10-pound drone did have several fail-safe features.

The PARC drone flew autonomously to Children’s Island. However, to comply with current Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) rules, a certified drone pilot was on hand monitoring the test, and a boat followed the drone to ensure it stayed within the pilot’s visual line of sight.

Here’s video from USA Today capturing the drone delivery:

“Drone technology used in this way can save lives and deliver products and services to places that are difficult to reach by traditional transit infrastructures,” said CyPhy Works founder and CTO Helen Greiner, who’s also a co-founder of iRobot.

The CyPhy-UPS drone delivery test comes less than one month after the FAA’s Part 107 rules for small commercial drones went into effect. Essentially, companies that want to use small drones (under 55 lbs) for commercial purposes no longer need permission from the government to do so. They just need to pass a multiple-choice test and pay a fee.

These new rules, however, didn’t really address delivery drones. The visual line of sight and flying over people restrictions still prevent drone delivery from taking off. But this is, at least, a step in the right direction.

UPS Airlines’ director of safety, Captain Houston Mills, was recently appointed to the FAA’s new drove advisory committee. “Our focus is on real-world applications that benefit our customers,” says Mark Wallace, UPS senior vice president of global engineering and sustainability. “We think drones offer a great solution to deliver to hard-to-reach locations in urgent situations where other modes of transportation are not readily available.”

The CyPhy-UPS test is the latest in a string of events showing the promising potential of drone delivery. Project Wing, a unit of Google’s parent company Alphabet Inc., will be using its delivery drones to fly burritos to students at Virginia Tech. Flirtey and Domino’s are developing pizza delivery drones, successfully demoing the system in New Zealand.

Flirtey partnered with 7-Eleven, of course, for the first FAA-approved home drone delivery in the United States. The Flirtey drone autonomously delivered Slurpees, a chicken sandwich, donuts, hot coffee and candy to the home of the family who placed the order. The delivery was made “in the span of a few minutes,” and the Flirtey drone hovered in place and gently lowered each package to the ground in the family’s backyard.

Watch Flirtey’s historic home drone delivery in the video below.